Imara Daima residents sing the blues as sewer, water systems fall apart

Friday September 29 2017


A lady on September 14, 2017 demonstrates how illegal water connection is done within Mukuru kwa Njenga slum, which is next to Imara Daima Estate. Sewage often mixes with clean water because some of the pipes are broken. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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When the Imara Daima housing estate was started in the early 1990s, it was marked by hygiene, comfort and class for the families who first lived in the suburb.

A plaque in the area indicates that the estate was officially opened by President Daniel arap Moi on April 12, 1995.

Twenty-two years later, the pride is gone.

With a deplorable sewerage system, vandalism of water pipes and the twin crimes of encroachment and land grabbing getting out of hand, Imara Daima is now a shadow of its former self.

What caused this plunge from grace for a neighbourhood that was highly esteemed in the 90s?

Residents blame corruption and appalling levels of negligence by Nairobi County officials for their problems.

“When we came here in 1994, there were only about 1,000 houses in this area.

"However, in the last few years, other suburbs such as Muimara, Oak Park, Imara Garden, Sunrise Estate and Imara Springs have cropped up,” Imara Daima Estate Association (Idea) chairman Joe Kimanga said.

The uncontrolled development of the area has not been matched by an adequate sewerage system.

A system originally intended for Imara Daima has now been stretched beyond its capacity to accommodate refuse from all the new estates through illegal and irregular connections.

Vandalism of manhole covers and dumping of waste in the sewer system downstream have compounded the mess. The sewer line is clogged.

“We always have sewage floods in our houses because the sewer system has been overloaded,” Ms Claries Omollo, who has resided in Imara Daima for 15 years, said.

“It is a total mess we are living in.”

A tributary of Ngong River that passes through the estate hardly looks like a stream anymore.

It is now a grimy trickle of filth and all manner of debris.

“Clean and clear water used to flow in this river. You could even use the water to irrigate your plot. Today, you can’t.

"Water does not move at all in some sections of the stream because it has been choked with garbage,” Ms Omollo said.

According to Mr Kimanga, wider pipes have irregularly been fitted to the original sewer line, flouting the country’s building code that states that any waste pipe “shall have an external diameter adequate for the function it has to perform, and not less than that of any pipe connecting it with the appliance it serves”.

Due to the overload of the sewer line, which runs parallel to the river, manholes have been punched along its course to prevent the backflow of waste water.

These manholes have however turned the stream into an eyesore, a breeding ground for diseases. Mosquitoes teem in the stream.

Most of the households in the estate have to contend with the seepage of sewage that occasionally bursts from the saturated ground below, drenching the compounds with dirty water.

In a case of impunity, a developer in the neighbouring Muimara estate has put up a three-storey building along the sewer line, diverting the channel.

This is a clear violation of the building code that states that “no person shall, without the written consent of the council, erect, or cause to be erected, a building over a sewer”.

According to the residents, the owner of the unoccupied Gateway Apartments remains a mystery to them.

Attempts by the Saturday Nation to establish who the owner is were futile as the caretaker only gave non-committal responses.

While the residents’ efforts to restore their homes have always hit a dead end, they have not given up in their resolve to fight for a safe and hygienic neighbourhood.

“For five years, we have written to the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), seeking to have the mess rectified.

"However, every time we write to the firm, the officials refer us to Athi Water.

"We are being taken round in circles by the two authorities while the situation here continues to deteriorate,” Ideas communication manager Job Mwangi said.

The neighbourhood’s interior is as bad as its exterior.

A few metres from the estate, exposed electrical wires, sewerage and clean water pipes overlap.

In 2016, the sewage menace reached intolerable levels.

Residents complained to the NCWSC, after which the construction of a new sewer line was commissioned.

“This new line was supposed to connect to the old trunk from downstream.

"Athi Water undertook the project, which was overseen by Ms Emily Kilongi, an engineer, who also confirmed payment to the contractor,” Mr Kimanga said.

The 570-metre sewer line, which is part of a Sh270 million rehabilitation and restoration programme in the area, however, turned into a fiasco.

The canal did not help relieve the problem upstream.


But Athi Water absolved itself of blame.

“The sewer line within the estate is clogged and waste water cannot move into the new channel.

"The problem is a consequence of the many apartments coming up in the area. Most of these estates do not have a proper waste disposal mechanism.

"These are operational issues, which are being addressed,” Ms Kilongi said.

According to her, whatever problem exists upstream is not the concern of Athi Water, because the organisation’s obligation was to “build the connecting canal from outside the estate, which is what we did”.

Residents however disagree.

“The new line is incompatible with the old line. Waste water from the estate cannot flow downstream.

"The contractor did a sloppy job and left the scene,” Mr Kimanga said.

When the scandal emerged, the NCWSC is said to have dispatched a team of technicians to survey the area with the aim of building a new sewer line, in what residents claim was a hasty attempt to conceal the full extent of the problem.

Besides the problem with the sewerage, vandalism of water systems in the estate occurs in broad daylight.

Gangs break into the estate water pipes and divert the water to the adjacent Mukuru kwa Njenga slum.

When the Saturday Nation team recently visited the area, some youth were digging a trench along the perimeter of Imara Daima estate, raising suspicion of another water diversion scheme.

Upon spotting the Nation team, the youth vanished from the scene.

While Imara Daima residents have repeatedly reported illegal water siphoning to the NCWSC, no significant action has been taken to stop the pilferage.

To the residents, this inaction heightens their suspicion of profound complicity between the cartels and the water authority.

“We pay huge water bills every month while the water is stolen and used elsewhere.

"Use of unmetered water is common in the slum. Whenever we raise the alarm, the company sends engineers to tour the estate’s water and sewerage system.

"But for five years now, the situation has not changed. Something fishy must be going on,” Ms Jackie Doresi, a resident, said.

Sewage often mixes with clean water because some of the pipes are broken.

“This is the same dirty water they pipe to the slum dwellers. It is just curious that there haven’t been incidents of disease outbreaks in that area. Residents buy it because it is cheap,” Mr Wycliffe Monubi, a resident, said.

While residents have learnt to live with the malodorous stench ensuing from the mess for years, it is the possibility of electrocution they dread most.

A burnt power pole in the estate is proof of freak power accidents that are now a common occurrence in the area.

“A child was recently electrocuted in their house. People have died in their houses after touching wet walls when it was raining.

"Another house in the estate burnt down less than a month ago during a similar accident,” Ms Doresi said.

Residents say a network of cartels run the perilous and criminal business of tapping power from the main transformer in the estate and supplying it to Mukuru kwa Njenga residents.

The pilfered power is transmitted to the slum in a latticework of naked live wires that are only a few feet from the ground, supported by feeble wooden poles, in what is clearly a deathtrap.

“Each line is operated by a different group of “slum engineers”.

These individuals are well-known in the estate, but no one dares confront them for fear of victimisation.

"They are responsible for vending pirated electricity to the slum dwellers,” Mr Kimanga said.

“Kenya Power’s Nairobi South regional manager Aggrey Machasio is aware of this matter.

"He was here in 2016 and witnessed this illicit supply of electricity. He promised to install power in the slum at subsidised rates for the dwellers to avert the dangerous theft of power,” Mr Kimanga said.

While there is evidence of installation of the small transformers in the adjacent low-income neighbourhood, power is yet to be transmitted there.

The cartels, residents say, will continue to tap power from the main transformer until the slum has its own supply.