Close

POLLUTION

Nairobi River clean up a boost in environment protection

The Nairobi River and its surrounding tributaries, which lead into the River Athi and then the Indian Ocean, is still in bad shape

In Summary

• Kenya is once again setting an example for our neighbours, and showing the world that we mean business when finding ways to respect and preserve our environment

• The National Environment Management Authority has already shut down 25 factories for dumping illegal waste into the river

Youth clean up Nairobi River in the Dandora section in the ongoing efforts to reclaim the river on May 15, 2019
Youth clean up Nairobi River in the Dandora section in the ongoing efforts to reclaim the river on May 15, 2019
Image: JACK OWUOR

The recent Nairobi River clean up initiative confirms shows the the government’s commitment and seriousness about sustainability.

The plastic ban in 2017 initiative was one of the first of its kind not only in Africa, but globally too. Kenya is once again setting an example for our neighbours, and showing the world that we mean business when finding ways to respect and preserve our environment.

The plastic bag law is a great catalyst for large manufacturers to come up with sustainable alternatives to plastic bags, and encourages individual shoppers to make it a habit of using reusable alternatives. Awareness of how to treat the environment is key, and Kenya has reached widespread awareness of the issues.

Two years later, a positive change is visible and remarkable. Fewer fishermen are finding plastic bags harming the underwater ecosystem, and along with butchers they are finding less plastic waste in the guts of the fish and meat that we consume. It thankfully has become rare to see plastic bags strewn on the ground or flying about in the wind as we walk down the street. In Nairobi’s informal settlements, residents are more likely to use communal toilets with well-organised plumbing systems, rather than disposing of waste in plastic bags.

The Nairobi River and its surrounding tributaries, which lead into the River Athi and then the Indian Ocean, is still in bad shape. That is why I am delighted to hear about the Nairobi River clean up project, and hoping that it will inspire the same kind of clean-up action to take place on river banks around the country.

The National Environment Management Authority has already shut down 25 factories for dumping illegal waste into the river. Nema chairman John Konchellah issued a statement explaining that these factories received advanced warning letting them know that there would be repercussions if they continued to dump untreated waste, which is hazardous to our ecosystem and to the residents of our city. It is absolutely unacceptable that large companies see an characteristic natural element of Nairobi, something that pumps through our city, as a dumping ground.

Members of the Nema clean up crew, who have received Hepatitis B immunisations and have been issued special protective sanitary gear to carry out their important task, have encountered other surprising variations of waste. This includes needles and sharp objects, and garbage cast into the river by professional garbage collectors, along with everyday personal waste. Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko made an even more alarming and disheartening announcement that some city hospitals have been performing abortions and dumping the infant remains in the river.

The next step is regulation, which Nema will do by placing officers in strategic locations around the river where dumping frequently occurs. An individual, company or institution caught polluting will be held accountable. My hope is that after some time, it will no longer be an acceptable social practice by anyone in Kenya to dump waste in non-designated areas, especially not in the deep blue rivers that flow through our country. We are getting there.

Pollution has reached frightening levels in the Nairobi River and around the country in general. The plastic bag ban and Nema’s move to shut down corporate perpetrators is a step in the right direction to rectifying this. It is imperative that Kenyans support President Uhuru Kenyatta and his government on this issue. We cannot simply sit back and expect seamless execution by the government if we, the citizens, do not put our hearts into the issue as well.

Uhuru has already united Kenyans through his famous handshake with Raila Odinga. Practising a sustainable lifestyle is an issue that all Kenyans should be proud to unite in as well. Our country is known for its natural beauty —tourists from all over the world flock here every year to see stunning wildlife, green valleys, lush highlands, and pristine yellow beaches with clear blue waters.

Business people come to Nairobi for all kinds of manufacturing and technology partnerships expecting to stay in a world-class city, the best Africa has to offer. As the world watches, it will see that sustainability is a top priority for Kenya. Luckily Uhuru has top environmental standards high on his list of what Kenya’s future will look like.

Getting to that point takes a nation, and I am behind him.