Nairobi River cleanup takes shape as action plan is done

It will be launched soon to help river regain its lost glory

In Summary

• The thematic areas will include catchment protection and restoration, waste to rivers which include solid waste, sewerage, industrial and institutional waste

• Other thematic areas include mapping and restoration, reclamation and protection of the riparian land, drainage and hydrology

Youth to clean up Nairobi River in Dandora on May 15, 2019.
UPGRADE SEWER SYSTEM: Youth to clean up Nairobi River in Dandora on May 15, 2019.
Image: FILE

The intended cleanup of the heavily polluted Nairobi River has taken shape following the successful development of an action plan that addresses various aspects of regeneration.

Nairobi River Commission chairperson Pamela Olet told the Star the massive cleanup is set to be launched soon.

“Though small-scale clean ups are going on in one month, there is going to be a big Media Campaign and official cleanup launch by stakeholders and the state,” Olet said.

She said the action plan, which has been developed by the commission in partnership with stakeholders, will make Nairobi River regain its lost glory.

Olet said the cleanups that have been going on “are only a small aspect of the regeneration and more so publicity exercise”.

She said the thematic areas will include catchment protection and restoration, waste to rivers, which include solid waste, sewerage, industrial and institutional waste.

Other thematic areas include mapping and restoration, reclamation and protection of the riparian land, drainage and hydrology.

“There are cross-cutting issues, such as community engagement, publicity, communication, land use, resource mobilisation and monitoring and evaluation of whole forms integral part of the recovery strategy,” Olet said.

The cleanup operation will cover Nairobi, Kiambu, Kajiado, Machakos and Makueni counties, with actors drawn from various ministries and agencies.

Massive resources are needed, but each thematic area has its key stakeholder and resources. 

“The commission is mapping these resources to be availed for joining operation. These resources include equipment and funds,” Olet said.

Olet said a multi-agency command centre will be established to create a framework for resource allocation and monitoring of implementation. 

She said partners will collaborate to fill the gaps identified through project proposals.

The UN Systems will be supporting different partners to be involved in the river regeneration.

Olet said the beautification of the river ecosystem, the planting of a billions trees along the basin and the cleanups are ongoing with different groups but in small scale. 

“The commission is going to build capacity of the riverine groups and bring more CBOs, foundations and philanthropists to be involved in all these in the short term,” she said.

“Guidelines are being prepared to enable the cleanup be sustainable.  Partners actually look for resources to regenerate the river. The big role of this commission is to coordinate.” 

Olet said the government is supporting the commission to establish its importance structures for effective coordination, resource mobilisation and sustainable initiatives.


Decades ago, the river had clean drinking water from four main rivers: Ngong, Nairobi, Mathare and Mbagathi.

Young boys used to fish along the river as it was sparkling clean from Lavington to Dandora.

It also abounded with water beetles, dragonflies and other creatures.

Today, the Nairobi River — a Maasai name for cool waters — doesn't support life, except for scum and maggots.

Olet is leading the team tasked with changing the narrative.

Former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu also landed a new job after being appointed by the President to be a member of the entity.

Other members include Eva Muhia – representing riverine communities, Elizabeth Wathuti – representing civil society, Carlota Dal Lago – representing the private sector, and Elijah Biama and Duncan Ojwang, both representing academia.

There is also Mumo Musuva – a representative from Nairobi county – and Grace Mesopirr — representing the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The members shall hold office for a term of three years, renewable once based on performance.

The cleanup agency has been placed under the Office of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

On July 18, Water PS Paul Rono said plans to clean the river were at an advanced stage as the contractor has been secured.

“We want to make sure the whole of Nairobi River, which is close to 130km combined, is clean,” Rono said.

He said individuals who have encroached on riparian land surrounding the river will be removed.

New technologies will be adopted in the latest bid to tackle the sewage menace in the city.

Rono said plans are also underway to fix sewerage in the city, adding that modern technologies will be adopted so that wastewater can be treated and used for irrigation.

The PS said a million cubic meters of water supplied to Nairobi requires close to 750,000 cubic metres of sewerage facility.

“At present, we are talking about a capacity of sewerage in Nairobi that is close to 200,000 compared to the amount of water, which is 525,000 cubic metres of water per day. That is not adequate.”

“That is why sometimes we have spillages of sewage due to inadequate facilities to support the slum areas and other areas where we have had mushrooming buildings,” Rono said.

Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company is producing 525,000 cubic metres per day against a demand of 850 million litres, leaving a shortfall of 325 million litres.

Out of the water supplied, 300,000 cubic metres are lost daily through leaks also known as non-revenue water (unaccounted water).

Rono said the population has grown to the extent that a building that is to serve one household has been converted into flats and now serving several households.

He said the state wants individuals putting up infrastructure especially storey buildings must ensure that there is adequate sewerage facility.

Rono said a comprehensive sewerage facility for the city is being done.

“We believe that within the next five years, the issue of the sewerage will be addressed within the city,” Rono said.

Rono said the growing population in slums will have sewerage facilities.

He said the move will ensure that the rivers around the city are clean.

The National Environment Management Authority had suggested that there is need to fix sewerage system if the Nairobi was to regain its lost glory.

Nema DG Mamo Mamo in past interview said the root causes of pollution in the river must be dealt with if the river is to become clean.

"It is important to address the root cause of the pollution problem in our aquatic environment," the director general said.

He said this entails improving or upgrading the sewerage system, protecting the riparian reserves, removing illegal dumping sites along the river and improving sanitation infrastructure for the informal settlement.

The cleanup exercise seeks to secure Thwake dam.

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

The dam, which is being constructed downstream from Thwake and Athi Rivers, covers 2,470 acres (10 sqm) to create a reservoir of more than 690 million cubic metres.

However, the Auditor General Nancy Gathungu has already raised issues about the dam saying 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.

The main supply of the Thwake dam will be the Athi River whose main tributary is the Nairobi River, which is polluted with heavy metals.

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