Living with Pollution

By Sally Kivaya

Over the years, there has been an increase in the population of people living in urban cities. In most cases these people move from rural  to urban areas in search of opportunities like jobs and businesses while others move in search of medication and furthering their educational studies.

Kenya’s capital city Nairobi has experienced a massive population growth in the last couple of years. As the population continues to grow, the city grows in physical size and expands to accommodate the large population. Living in the city can be quite costly for the population and so most resort to finding cheaper affordable housing. Most  people therefore turn to informal settlements also known as slums for cheap housing.

With 27.51% of the population in Kenya being urban and 56% of this population living in slums, housing becomes scarce. This is the case in Kayole Soweto area where people have been forced to find alternative space for housing. This can be a dangerous situation.

Ngong river originates from the Kibiku forest South of Ngong Hills. The River Valley plays host to Mukuru, Fuata Nyayo and Sinai slums. It then flows northwards to Kayole Soweto area, where new informal settlements have been set up. Ngong river is one of the three tributaries of Nairobi river,the others being Mathare and Nairobi river. It is the most polluted river in the country and cannot support any living organisms and this is as a result of navigating 12 kilometers through the Nairobi industrial area where chemical waste is discharged into the river.

Industrial chemical waste is not the only cause of pollution. People living near the river in Kayole Soweto have also contributed to the bad state of the river, by  dumping plastic and household waste like detergents, agricultural fertilizers and human waste directly into the river. Sanitation infrastructure and facilities in most informal settlements is very basic. According to the UN wash joint monitoring programme reports 2019 by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 59% of Kenyans have access to basic water services and only 29% access sanitary services. Approximately five million Kenyans practice open defecation because most people mistake the river for an open sewerage system.  This poses both health and environmental hazards to the people of Kayole Soweto.

Some of the effects of living near the polluted Ngong river include; breakouts of diseases like cholera and typhoid, Muddy landscapes, poisoned soils and waterways which may kill plants and animals and flooding due to the accumulation of plastic. During the rainy season when it rains heavily the river overflows and floods. This is dangerous since people have settled very close to the river and encroached its territory, which might prove hazardous in the future because rivers have the potential to claim their encroached territory.

Kenya is classified as a water scarce country, with most of the rivers being polluted therefore making providing an equitable water supply difficult. There have been attempts to clean the river by the county government of Nairobi in 2019 ,but the residents continue to dispose of human waste and plastic bags and bottles into the river therefore making it difficult to rehabilitate Ngong river.


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