Fresh Initiative Taken to Refresh Nairobi River

By Robert Otani

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 25, 2001 (ENS) - The Nairobi River, one of the most polluted rivers in Kenya, is the focus of an intense cleanup campaign by the United Nations Environment Programme which is headquartered in Kenya's capital city of Nairobi, through which the river runs.

Since the turn of the 20th century, when the city of Nairobi came into being, the communities living along the rivers flowing through it have been disposing of all manner of garbage into it.


The Nairobi River runs polluted through the city. (Photos courtesy UNEP)
Even raw human waste has been emptied into the streams with no consideration given to the damage to them or the communities who use their waters. The harm has been extended even to the residents of the capital city.

Also affected is the well-being of the communities downstream of Nairobi River and Athi River, into which it flows and which empties its waters into the Indian Ocean.

As the Kenyan capital grew physically so did its population, which now stands at about three million. This population growth has seen to the mushrooming of slums where sanitation and other facilities are nonexistent.

New buildings and manufacturing plants have also been built with little regard for the environment, with untreated effluents flowing freely into the streams from the Ngong Hills to the west of the capital and the Nairobi River itself.

Water borne diseases like typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea are a constant threat to the people of this region.


Burning trash near the Nairobi River
The Nairobi River is still choked with pollution despite many efforts by a number of organizations, including the Nairobi City Council, the government and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which is headquartered in Nairobi. The river is, in fact, threatened with extinction.

Now a new project is giving hope for a fresh lease on life to the river and the communities along it, including the Nairobi residents.

UNEP is sponsoring the Save the Nairobi Rivers public awareness campaign, the first phase of the main Nairobi River Basin Project. It aims to raise the awareness of communities living near the rivers about their plight. The goal is to improve community health and general well being through a cleaner environment and the increased availability and quality of the water supply.

One component of this first phase are constructed wetlands at the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi and at the Nairobi Dam, a water hyacinth strangled pleasure resort, and a water hyacinth utilization project at the dam.

According to David Ombisi of the UNEP regional office for Africa, the initial activity, which is expected to take two years, will involve 200 riparian households upstream.

The practices of the Save the Nairobi Rivers campaign and the lessons learned from it will be documented in a handbook before being replicated to other communities throughout the Nairobi River watercourse.

"A pilot project will be implemented in a community of 200 households upstream of the Nairobi Dam to put in place proper sanitation and waste management practices to reduce its negative impact on the river," says a UNEP report on the project.

This will be achieved through the mobilization of the communities to improve their infrastructure, construct and properly manage sanitation facilities, including the ablution blocks, and helping them acquire a mains water supply.


The Nairobi River is repairable, UNEP believes.
A community information desk on pollution will be established to distribute information about environmental and health related hazards and waste management. A waste recycling facility will be established.

The second phase of the Nairobi River Basin Project will zero in on the dam, and will also demonstrate the value of proper sanitation and waste management practices. Polluted wetlands will be improved to upgrade the quality of impacted water systems.

Communities will be encouraged to get involved in safeguarding and monitoring the river basin as a vital resource.

This phase will involve an intensive public information, education and awareness campaign in collaboration with the UN's Habitat program Managing Water for African Cities and the local mass media.

The UNEP Africa regional office report says that the a remediation at the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters is designed to recycle 50,000 liters of water per day through the construction of a wetland area. UNEP predicts, "This will reduce the depletion of groundwater at the Nairobi National Park."