The city of Nairobi is sitting on a monumental garbage problem, and that crisis is beginning to stink to high heavens. City Hall, which is in charge of Nairobi’s cleanliness, calls the current state of affairs “abnormal” while environmental experts call it “a hazard”.
In between those two definitions lie mountains of garbage, a mound of blame, and millions of litres of sewage that no one seems to know how to deal with.
County executive committee member for environment, Mr Evans Ondieki, aptly used the description “abnormal” when asked by the Nation last week why the city had become one messy stink pit.
GARBAGE DUMPED IN CITY CENTRE
He added that the situation had “never been like this in the history of Nairobi, with garbage now being dumped in the CBD”.
And he was right. Never in the history of Nairobi, even when it was at its lowest ebb, have the alleyways and back streets of the CBD been turned into dumping sites.
There is a reason, though, for the current crisis: The Dandora dumpsite is full to capacity.
The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has condemned it.
City Hall agrees with that verdict, but there is nowhere else to dump the city’s ever-growing mountains of garbage.
The fall-back plan was the Ruai dumpsite in the outskirts of the city on the road to Kangundo.
But the plan was put on hold after experts warned that the site would pose a danger to the aviation industry.
This was because the dumpsite is directly beneath the flight path of planes using Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and the birds that would naturally be attracted to the site would become a safety risk.
In effect, this means that, for now, Nairobi is stuck with a dumpsite that is well past its sell-by date. Scientists, led by Prof Shem Wandiga of the University of Nairobi, have agreed that Dandora has reached its maximum shelf-life of 14 years, and that as a consequence it has now become a major health threat to residents.
What is even more tragic for the city is the fact that this problem has been staring it in the eye for months but no one seemed to notice.
Nairobi only erupted in a chorus of condemnation when the rains came. The tropical sun’s heat cooked the El-Niño rains-drenched garbage heaps all over the city into one putrid mess. Then everyone noticed something was amiss.
The rains also made the single lane directing trucks to the only accessible corner of Dandora dumpsite a muddy mess, and contractors stopped ferrying waste to the site. Instead, they started dumping it at undesignated areas, including Juja Road and Eastleigh.
One of the contractors, who spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity, said the situation was likely to get worse in the coming days as Dandora has become virtually inaccessible.
“When you make a trip to dispose of garbage, you have to take the vehicle to the garage,” he said. “That kind of business is no longer sustainable.”
However, in the middle of the mess, Mr Ondieki thinks politics is also afoot. He accuses some county government workers of taking advantage of the situation to sabotage the Kidero administration and make it appear inefficient.
Dr Kidero has himself hinted at insubordination, and earlier this month ordered the sacking of three top officials accused of deliberately delaying payments to garbage contractors.
“Gregory, Gatimu and Okere, please do me a favour by resigning before the end of the week,” Dr Kidero wrote in an e-mail. Acting county secretary Gregory Mwakanongo, acting finance chief officer Luke Gatimu, and their Treasury counterpart Morris Okere termed the allegations “false” and “malicious”, but they still packed their bags and exited City Hall, probably the first casualties of the city’s garbage headache.
NYS TO THE RESCUE
Cornered and helpless, City Hall sought help from the central government, and earlier this month entered into a 45-day contract with the National Youth Service (NYS) to ease the pressure.
In the agreement, the NYS, which is equipped to collect garbage on an industrial scale, is supposed to clear all the heaps of garbage that accumulated in the city over the holiday season. For this, it will be paid Sh1 million per day, or Sh45 million for the entire contract.
Many see the sub-contracting of the NYS as an admission of failure by City Hall. The county government has explained that with the ever-increasing population in the City, garbage would remain a major problem for the long haul unless drastic measures are taken.
It is estimated that over 3,000 tonnes of waste is generated daily in Nairobi, and City Hall officials say they do not have the capacity to collect and dispose of it properly.
Even when it is ferried to Dandora, it is not properly treated.
In 2014, residents of nearby settlements went to court seeking to compel the government to close down the dumpsite as it had become a health hazard to them.
They were supported by Nema in the suit, in which they complained of respiratory difficulties, skin disorders, abdominal problems and eye infections following pollution of the air by rubbish at the dumpsite.
In their petition, the residents, led by MP James Gakuya and activist Joseph Mudenyo, said a 2007 health survey in the area had linked the dumpsite to ailments like chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis, allergic dermatitis and fungal infections.
The petitioners also wanted City Hall to fence the 30-acre dumpsite and cover all the waste dumped there.
In its ruling, the High Court agreed with the petitioners, but none of the recommendations have been effected.
Last week Nema, through it Nairobi County director Titus Simiyu, said it would have closed the site “a long time ago”, but its hands were tied by the lack of another option for the city.