Water & Life; There is something fishy going on in Nairobi River that's not fish

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By Bernard Wainaina CEO,Profarms Consultants® LinkedIn; ke.linkedin.com/in/profarms/ This story is about how rivers bind together our healthy destinies. It is about a polluted urban river that has negatively affected the real estate value of high end apartments in Nairobi City. It is about why,both the rich and the poor should join hands to clean and protect our rivers. Tough as nails former Kenya's environment minister John Michuki must be turning in his grave.

The once sparkling Nairobi River he cleaned up now emits a foul smell that has seen property values along the river bank fall by 40 per cent, as distressed tenants flee to other neighbourhoods. The fetid stuff from slums flow through a tributary that joins Nairobi river from Muthangari and is washed downstream through the leafy suburbs along the river. Now, homeowners say they no longer use their once serene backyards because of the unbearable stench. "My children played in the river a few years ago, but now the foul smell is intolerable and embarrassing. My visitors wonder whether my toilets leak. The smell is undoubtedly human waste. The raw sewage is emptied into the river openly and with impunity". The authorities are aware of this," lamented Praful Varsani, one of the homeowners in the area whose house is always closed to keep off the stench.

With rents dropping from Sh250,000 to Sh150,000 ($2500-$1500tper month, enraged residents in neighbouring upmarket estates have given the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), Nairobi county government, Athi Water Service Board (AWSB), the Ministry of Health and the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) notice to sort out the mess or face the consequences. "The prime apartments near the river were in high demand, but now their values have dipped and few tenants want to reside in them. Houses here are fully-furnished, so clients just walk out with hand luggage once the stench hits them," lamented a property owner.

Huge business losses Slum residents in Kawangware told The Nairobian they drain toilet waste into the rundown sewerage lines and drainage canals that join the river. At Lavington, some sewage exhausters empty their content in sewer pipes that flow directly into the river. "Tenants downstream are vacating as living next to raw excrement, some of which is shockingly spewed out directly from sewer lines into the river, is not only unacceptable, but a serious violation of the lease agreement," St Michael Area Resident Association (Smara) residents complained in a letter to Nairobi County Governor,Dr Evans Kidero. Smara residents are threatening to seek compensation for huge business losses caused by the exodus of tenants to other areas, with some investors saying auctioneers are baying for their blood because they are unable to service mortgages. "We are doing a class action suit. We want to get all people affected from Muthangari, Riverside Drive, Westlands, Lavington, Chiromo to those from Kawangware. We want to involve even those affected in the slums. Authorities concerned have to be held responsible," said Jayne Muthoni, an affected property owner. Muthoni, who is among the litigants, said the county government has been playing games even after residents identified the areas where unscrupulous property owners and operators of exhausters drain poop into the river. "City Hall wrote to us stating they know the pollutants.

We now want them to take the culprits to court. If they delay in taking stern action, we will assume they are condoning and protecting these people," she warned. NCWSC Managing Director, Philip Gichuki, admitted that private developers connect their sewer into their system and into the river. "Our sewer lines were built in the 1950s and are overwhelmed. If there are breakages and spillage into the river, it is our mandate to solve that," he said. But affected residents fault him for failing to crack the whip. "There is no way developers and exhausters will empty waste into sewer lines without the knowledge of government, Nairobi Water Company and Nema. They turn a blind eye.

There is something fishy going on in that river and the concerned offices that is not fish," claimed Muthoni. Stanley Muturi, the environment ministry programme officer heading the cleanup of Nairobi River, explained that most of the pollution results from breakages of sewer lines. He said that Nema has written to NCWSC about the issue. Ondieki however claimed the ministry of environment and Nema have been allocated money to carry out the river's cleanup and as such, the two should shoulder the blame. "The Ministry of Environment and Nema have Sh260 million for rivers but they are not using it," he alleged. Residents however say they will not accept the blame game between the authorities. "It is no longer a matter of passing the buck. Somebody must be held responsible," said a resident. We need 1,000 days County officials toured the river last year and admitted the situation is dire. "We should come together to deliberate on the right interventions and the system of implementing such interventions" said Oyake. Ondieki wrote to Smara on February 19 indicating the county government was not solely to blame for the problem. "It is not enough to condemn the county and/or other stakeholders for the mess. It is not sufficient to pass the buck," said Ondieki. The environment boss says restoration of the river can be accomplished in 1,000 days, but only if various stakeholders work together. "It is not sufficient to pass the buck. The bottom line is that we must first of all admit that there is a serious environmental challenge that is a social problem," said Ondieki. His sentiments were echoed by the director for Urban Rivers Rehabilitation, Eric Akotsi, who said the settlement on the river's riparian zones and improper waste management not only cause pollution, but also thwart rehabilitation efforts. The next Urban warfare may just be triggered by polluted urban rivers! Bernard Wainaina is an Independent Agribusiness Advisor and CEO at Profarms Consultants®,Nairobi,Kenya. He mainly works with Agribusiness Youth Groups in Eastern African Region.