Island risks floating on sewage

Tuesday December 7 2010

File | NATION The Lamu seafront is a health risk. Raw sewage and effluent are being emitted into the ocean because the town lacks a sewerage system. The county council says it needs Sh800 million to build one.

File | NATION The Lamu seafront is a health risk. Raw sewage and effluent are being emitted into the ocean because the town lacks a sewerage system. The county council says it needs Sh800 million to build one.  

By MATHIAS RINGA [email protected]

It has been described as a paradise on earth, what with its alluring powder soft white sand beaches and other tourist attractions.

But behind the bewitching beauty — which pulls in local and foreign holidaymakers by their thousands — the Lamu archipelago has its dark side: the sickening stream of raw sewage.

The island has no sewerage system or a treatment plant. All solid and liquid waste is emptied into the ocean.

The drainage lines lie strategically closer to walls so that raw sewage can flow by gravity into the ocean.

As residents take a bath or wash dishes, the dirty water flows into the sea.

A casual walk on the narrow alleys dotting the island paints a grim picture. The drainage lines are open and overflowing with swarms of flies.

The situation is even worse on the seafront during low tide as the sewage floods the shoreline.

Worst hit are hotels, whose exquisite beaches have turned into pools of raw sewage, driving clients away.

National Museums of Kenya director-general Idle Farah says the town is facing a sewage crisis.

Dr Farah said this had lowered the quality of life on the island, which was listed as a world heritage site by United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2001.

“The drainage lines, which are used as sewers are open, casting an intolerable stench on the island. This could easily trigger outbreak of diseases and breathing problems,” he warned.

He said a comprehensive study by NMK indicated that the raw effluent was polluting the sea as well as endangering lives.

To fix the problem, he added, more than Sh500 million is required to lay down a sewerage system and a treatment plant on the island.

He appealed to the government to address the matter, saying the crisis would turn away investors and tourists.

“Visitors come here to enjoy the beauty of this historical island and to celebrate the Swahili culture and tradition,” he observed.

“Sadly the bad smell ruins the good atmosphere. The ministries of Heritage and Finance should prioritise the sewage project as Lamu plays a key role in tourism and the economy.”

Romantic Group of Hotels manager Lydia Moraa said they had raised the matter with the Lamu County Council, but nothing had been done.

She said guests have been complaining about the stench from the shoreline.

She added that tourists avoid swimming in the area and have to be driven to Shella where the sea is unpolluted.

“The bad smell caused by the sewage is costing us potential customers. Our guests find it difficult to eat or drink during low tide as the stench is unbearable,” she said.

“We have written numerous letters of complaints to the council to solve the menace, but in vain. We don’t know when the problem will be addressed.”

Lamu County clerk Patrick Ouya acknowledged the problem, but said their options were limited due to lack of funds.

Mr Ouya said the council required Sh800 million to build a sewerage system and treatment plant on the island.

“Last year the council collected only Sh23 million, which is just a drop in the ocean,” he said.

The clerk, however, said they had successfully asked a Chinese council to fund the project.

Mr Ouya said that he led a delegation from the council to Shanghai, China, to celebrate the twinning of Shanghai city and Lamu council.

“While in Shanghai, we requested our hosts to help us with funds to establish a sewerage system on the island. They pledged to assist us.

“We have prepared a proposal for the project, which we shall forward to the Chinese council for approval. We will immediately embark on building the sewage system once we get the funds,” he added.

Last year, several people on the island died of cholera, attributed to poor sanitation.