Rising noise levels starting to make city dwellers go deaf

Loud noise.Photo/Courtesy
Loud noise.Photo/Courtesy

Home. Has been a place to seek comfort and peace of mind after a busy day, but to many residents of Nairobi and its environs, homes are becoming a nuisance. Night clubs and bars are popping up everywhere and playing music to deafening levels and robbing residential areas of their serenity.

A spot-check by the Star around Nairobi revealed that such entertainment joints have cropped up in every corner. Many residents have ceded their right to a quiet and peaceful home to a noisy and irritating entertainment.

The noise not only has a negative social consequence but also poses health risks. However, many residents have chosen to suffer in silence. In Umoja, Eastlands, there is a bar or two in every five flats and within less than 200m radius. The same scenario is played out in parts of Buruburu and Outerring.

Umoja resident Michael Njoroge feels that homes are no longer habitable. "The upsurge of these locals [bars] has given us sleepless nights. We have complained to the authorities but nothing seems to change,” he says. Njoroge says the bar owners have either been bribed to "look the other way" or intimidated by cartels against enforcing the law on noise pollution.

In Nairobi West, especially around the shopping centre, Embakasi, South B, Langata, Dagoretti, Kangemi and Madaraka estates, residents are getting used to the noise from the bars. Margaret Mkanga, a mother of three in Nairobi West, says noise has become the new normal. “Our children, since they were born, have not known a calm environment. They have gotten a accustomed to all these noises and they take it as a norm. Some wake up to humming songs that some of us are ashamed to listen to,” she says.

The situation is not much different in considerably upmarket areas of Parklands, Kilimani, Westlands, and Kileleshwa. Irungu Houghton, chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation, says noise pollution affects all 85 wards in Nairobi. “Many people go home after a long day at the office, and all they want is to just relax in peace and quiet. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been curtailed by noise pollution,” he says.


The foundation has been hosting campaigns and Twitter debates #IcantSleep #SleepforAll to raise public awareness and government attention to the city's noise pollution. Irungu says the noise that has earned Nairobi “a noisy city" tag is not limited to nightclubs only. It extends to noise from construction sites, bikers, matatus and even taxis, he says. Irungu says establishment of nightclubs in residential areas points to a failure in planning by the county chiefs.

Some residents have also faulted some of the pentecostal and charismatic churches that hold night vigils. Madaraka resident Paul Onyango says they are some of the greatest noise polluters. “Though I am a Christian, sometimes I fail to understand why a church with a couple of worshipers at night will conduct a kesha for its believers inside a church but choose to erect loudspeakers outside the church, distracting the night peace to all who stay nearby,” he says.

It's illegal to cause or make loud, unreasonable, unnecessary or unusual noise that annoys, disturbs injures or endangers, as regulated under the Environment Management and Coordination (Noise and Excessive Vibration) Controls/Regulation of 2008. However, agencies have been lax in enforcing the law, despite complaints.

For instance, residents who live near Space Lounge Grill on Ngong Road say they have not enjoyed their tenancies. Resident Kate Anampiu says they cannot sleep nor relax, especially from Friday to Sundays, due to loud noise from the lounge, which was established in October last year.

“We have made numerous complaints to police, county, Nema [National Environment Management Authority] and even the establishment and even signed a petition, but as we speak the situation is even worse,” she says. "As the music plays it always shakes our houses, making it technically impossible for us to catch a nap."

However, Space Lounge manager Evans Omondi says the residents exaggerate the concerns at times. “We have done serious sound proofing and we are still improving it so as to minimise or even stop any future breakout of noise from our premises,” he says. Omondi attributes the constant complaints against the Lounge to business rivalry from unknown competitors.

Beyond legal levels

Unlike before, when noise pollution was handled by Nema, it is currently part of the devolved function that is now being regulated by the county's Environment department. As per the regulation, any noise above 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night is deemed noise pollution. However, the Kilimani foundation says most city parts record above 80 decibels of noise from nearby entertainment spots.

The same regulation provides that the maximum permissible noises taken within facilities that have mixed residential (with some commercial and places of entertainment), the sound levels should not exceed 55 decibels during the day and 35 decibels at night. In purely commercial areas, the sound levels should not be above 60 decibels at day and 35 at night. But most city clubs have sound levels beyond 80 decibels, which is a health hazard.

For silent zones and places of worship, the permissible maximum sound levels are set at 40 decibels in the day and 35 decibel in the night, whereas for residential outdoors, it is 50 decibels and 35 decibel in the day and night.

High sound levels beyond recommended 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night are also recorded inside matatus. On many routes in Nairobi, passengers have to endure above 85 decibel sound levels.

Mercy Macharia acting CEO Pubs, Entertainment and restaurants Association says noise pollution and the ongoing conflicts between residents and their members should be blamed on county authorities.

“To solve this problem, the county should strictly license bars and entertainment joints in commercial areas only, not in mixed development areas (residential and commercial), as it is the case today,” she says.

Nema's director general Wakhungu says even though noise pollution is a devolved function, they are helping counties in technical support to strengthen their systems in tackling noise pollution. “We no longer issue licenses nor respond to incidences of noise pollution,” he says, adding that many counties are doing well in taming noise pollution.

Isaac Muraya, the city's Environment director, denies that the county has been compromised by bar owners, crippling the war on noise polluters. “We have a 24-hour noise control unit that is cracking on every enterprise or individuals causing environment nuisance by producing noise above recommended levels,” he says. “We spare no one, be it the bars, churches, and even matatus. All must abide by the guidelines or be sanctioned.”

Muraya also denies that the county is licensing nightclubs in residential areas. He says entertainment joints in commercial zones should apply control noise measures like putting acoustic walls to act as sound proofs.


Exposure to noise and high sound levels is causing hearing losses among many city residents, an ear, nose and throat surgeon has warned. Dr David Musyoka, an Otolaryngolgist at the Agakhan University Hospital, says even though no statistical survey has been done to ascertain the trend, the number of people with hearing losses is on the rise. The consultant blames this on increasing noise pollution from entertainment joints, matatus, and mostly among youths who use headphones.

Musyoka says the most vulnerable are those who face social exposures, like the revellers in noisy clubs, matatus and other joints. Others include those who face occupational exposure, like those working in queries, matatu crews or posho mills.

He says loud sound levels damages the microscopic hair cells found in the cochlea. Over time, the cells are damaged and fall off thus resulting to hearing loss. Not only repeated exposure to noise over extended period of time but also one-time exposure to loud sound can cause hearing loss, he says.

"Any high frequencies of noise causes trauma, thus resulting to hearing losses known as temporary threshold shift and and permanent threshold shift,” he says. Musyoka says temporary shift is the dullness in hearing after exposure to loud noise. The hearing recovers depending on the frequency of the noise and how long one has been exposed to it. A permanent shift is caused by regular exposure to excessive noise for a long time. It can also occur after very high sound level exposure for just a short time.

The condition increases for up to five years after the exposure to noise, as well high levels of noise can lead to tinnitus, a constant ringing sound in someone's ears or head. Other than causing hearing losses, noises have psychological effects that affects individuals' moods. This makes someone easily annoyed or just have a poor attitude because, either he didn't sleep because of noise thus he didn't rest and rejuvenate.

Musyoka says that any sound beyond 85 decibels is harmful, adding that those who are exposed to noise beyond that range should wear hearing protectors.