In Kenya, local residents need to be involved in the restoration of the Nairobi River basin says guest commentator Sam Dindi, the co-founder of 'Mazingira yetu' magazine. It's the only way for a healthy future.
The Nairobi River is choking on raw human, industrial and medical waste. The waste in the rivers has replaced aquatic life forms and the once clear waters are currently either black or gray in color with a sulfur-like smell that can make one believe that volcanic activity is taking place just beneath the ground.
Nairobi County covers an area of 658 square kilometers (254 square miles) and it serves as the catchment area of the River Athi, which is the second longest river in Kenya after the Tana. The Nairobi catchment comprises the rivers Nairobi, Mathare and Motoine/Ngong. The three rivers flow from the west on the Kikuyu escarpment to the northeast in Dandora and Ruai plains where they join in a confluence to form the headwaters of the Athi.
Sam Dindi creates awareness in schools on how they can get involved in the cleaning up the environment
The city of Nairobi was established in 1890 as a town and for the last 129 years, the city's river hydrology has been greatly transformed because of continued dredging and the canalization of the rivers.
The once riverine wetlands have been reclaimed to create space for buildings, roads and other infrastructure. The waters are so polluted they are unfit for human use and can only support limited aquatic life.
A number of attempts
Over the years, numerous attempts by governmental and non-governmental agencies have been undertaken to clean up the Nairobi River basin, but their efforts have had little impact in the improvement of the water quality in the three rivers. The involvement of the three million Nairobi residents has been the missing element in all the river restoration programs.
The current Nairobi regeneration project is the fourth attempt to clean up the river basin and it seeks to rehabilitate the Nairobi River and its network of tributaries by identifying and sustainably addressing sources of river pollution, reclaiming riparian land and initiating landscape management activities, which include tree planting.
The first attempt was in the period 1999-2000 and involved a pollution assessment of the three rivers. It found that the main source of pollution was from untreated industrial waste and raw sewage from informal settlements.
The ever growing human population in Nairobi County has increased pressure on the ageing sewage facilities resulting in the frequent leakage of raw sewage. Grabbing of wetlands along rivers that would have acted as water filters and replacing them with buildings is a major problem affecting all wetlands found in urban areas. Solid waste from households and markets has filled up the only landfill in Nairobi resulting in the dumping of waste into rivers.
Nairobi County residents should know that through their action and inaction the Nairobi River basin will always remain polluted no matter the kind of cleanup taking place. The tragedy of commons is one major setback to the protection of rivers and any other natural resource. It is time everyone came out of their comfort zones to ensure the city's arteries are clean.
Through Mazingira yetu we publish stories that highlight efforts regarding restoration of the Nairobi River basin with the aim of educating and inspiring city residents to do the same. We also run the Mazingira yetu podcast that brings in experts and features groups and individuals who are working toward cleaning the Nairobi River basin.
Upstream, I am involved in the restoration of the Ondiri wetland in Kikuyu. The Ondiri wetland is a peatland bog and the source of the Nairobi River. There I have collaborated with organizations such as Friends of Ondiri and the Eco-Pro initiative in reforestation of the riparian vegetation around the wetland, creating awareness among the landowners of the value of the wetland and initiating an alternative form of livelihood that will reduce pressure on the vegetation and water.
Downstream, I have trained the Komb Green Solutions youth group along the Nairobi River in Korogocho on riparian ecosystem restoration, proper waste disposal mechanisms and embracing environmental sustainability.
It is high time that government — at the national and county level — came up with a proper mechanism and policy that will involve the residents in the cleanup of the rivers beginning from their households through separation of solid waste, waste pickers and recycling industry to be streamlined and supported to ensure no waste reaches the rivers or surrounding areas.
The Nairobi River basin has the potential of becoming a great tourist attraction like the Thames in England, or the Danube in Hungary, and hence can create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly by making public green spaces along the river that could continue to host the large variety of biodiversity that Kenya is known for.