CLEAN-UP INITIATED

We won’t rest until Nairobi River is spotlessly clean — Nema

The authority has cracked down on facilities that release pollutants into the river's basin

In Summary

• In July, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed Nema to ensure that water from the basin is clean to avoid contaminating the dam.

• His order came days after Auditor General Nancy Gathungu raised concerns about the safety of the water that will be fed into the dam.

Komb Green member receives a waste bin from Nema director general Mamo Mamo
Komb Green member receives a waste bin from Nema director general Mamo Mamo
Image: HANDOUT

The National Environment Management Authority has issued a stern warning against facilities polluting the Nairobi River.

The authority has launched a crackdown on facilities that release pollutants into the river's basin and demanded total compliance with environmental conservation regulations. 

Nema director general Mamo Mamo on Monday told the Star that the facilities dotting the Nairobi River basin have no choice but to put up effluent treatment plants.

The pollutants will endanger the lives of two million people that are eager to use the Sh82 billion of Thwake Multipurpose Dam in Makueni and Kitui. Mamo said laws and regulations will be applied to ensure the river is clean to secure that the dam.

“We have over 20 environmental inspectors from Nema in the entire Nairobi River Basin backed by Nema police unit officers,” he said.

Mamo said the authority will not rest until the basin is clean.

“So far, we have done more than 50 per cent of the industries or factories that we had earlier marked for restoration orders,” he said.

“By the next one to two months, we will be able to ensure all these facilities have fully complied with Water Quality Regulations, 2006.”

Mamo said all discharges into the river should be in line with water regulations and national standards of effluent discharge.

In July, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed Nema to ensure water from the basin is clean to avoid contaminating the dam. This came days after Auditor General Nancy Gathungu raised concerns about the safety of the water that will be fed into the dam.

Gathungu said the Sh82 billion dam may turn out to be a white elephant because of polluted, unsafe water.

An environmental and social impact assessment of the project warned that the water would be hard to treat owing to the pollutants.

It cites problems of residual faecal and organic matter from pit latrines, graveyards and waste holding sites from displaced homesteads and social locations.

The situation undermines the health of people and animals drinking the water.

Gathungu said the Water ministry had not taken corrective measures to ensure the water is safe. She said the dam’s main supply would be the Athi River, whose main tributary, the Nairobi River, is polluted with heavy metals.

About two million people from Lower Eastern are expected to use the dam to end their water shortage.

The dam, which is being constructed downstream from Thwake and Athi River, covers 2,470 acres with a reservoir of about 690 billion litres.

Regional leaders have been pushing for the completion of the dam whose works are at 46 per cent.

It would be the main source of water for Kitui, Makueni and Machakos counties and the main supply to the upcoming Konza city.

Mamo disclosed that a number of industries have complied by putting up effluent treatment plants. However, some of the plants are not working optimally.

Mamo said his teams are taking samples of the discharge from these facilities into the Nairobi River.

“We are getting challenges from a number of tanneries along the river because they are using chemicals which are difficult to manage. But under the compliance assistance programme that Nema has embarked in, we are assisting these tanneries to comply,” he said.

He said Environment CS Keriako Tobiko was getting a biweekly progress report on the river's clean-up.

Nema had also planned multiagency meetings of all the stakeholders from the national government, county governments, regulators and service providers like Nairobi Water, Athi Waterworks, and Tana and Athi River Development Authority.

The move was meant to ensure joint enforcement and monitoring activities within the entire basin.

Mamo said regional authorities such as Tana and Athi River Development Authority will be engaged to protect water catchment areas. Tarda covers Machakos, Tana River, Meru, Makueni, Kajiado, Kiambu and Kitui counties.

Mamo said Kiambu, Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni, Kitui and Kilifi are taking part in the clean-up. The counties have been involved as waste management is a devolved function.

Waste disposal within the basin is another challenge that the authority is grappling with.

“We have 53 illegal disposal sites along the river and we have mapped out with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services. We have also seconded officers from Nema to the NMS to assist it to work out waste issues.”

The other challenge the authority is grappling with is the breakage of sewer lines as a result of the ongoing road construction. Mamo said the sewers release huge volumes of effluent into the river.

He said all the illegal structures erected in riparian areas will be removed.

“We are also mapping illegal structures along the river such as garages and food kiosks. We have marked some for demolitions,” he said, adding that the authority is working with the NMS to help with machinery.

Mamo said the Water Resource Authority has delineated the riparian land and put beacons in readiness for the removal of illegal structures.

The African Development Bank has assured the government of support and resources for Thwake upstream clean-up.

AfDB says it has set aside significant resources that will ensure a robust clean-up of upstream water sources before the completion of the dam.