Nairobi’s vicious cycle—piling trash, slums on river banks

Solid waste management remains a major challenge in Nairobi and virtually across all the 47 counties in Kenya. Long before devolution, local authorities threw to the back-burner plans to establish proper waste management systems. As a result, in 2013, county governments inherited a monumental garbage problem.

In the capital Nairobi for instance, Mathare River carries the hallmarks of a failed city in terms of waste management. Everyday, tonne loads of plastic bags and bottles as well as nondescript non-biodegradable materials course through Mathare River, contaminating its waters.

The presence of pollutants puts to waste any chance for aquatic life and negatively impacts the overall ecosystem. Mushrooming slum settlements continue growing along the river bank ecosystem, further denting any efforts to reclaim the river.

The accumulation of solid waste along the riverbanks promotes breeding of disease-carrying organisms, posing health risks to communities. It also contaminates the groundwater sources, affecting access to clean water for the slum dwellers.

Mathare slum settlements poses a challenge to the cleaning and maintenance of the river in a number of ways. Settlements are increasingly encroaching into the riparian zone. And since the settlements do not meet set standard waste disposal systems, the river waters are simply unusable. Reports show that over 77 percent of slum residents dispose solid waste and liquid/fecal waste directly into Mathare River.

Also, residents who have stayed in the area for over 20 years develop a sense of attachment to the land. This makes it a daunting task to evict or relocate them to give way for clean-ups and long-term management of the problem.

Only 25 percent to 50 percent of the 3200 tonnes of solid waste from Nairobi city is collected and transported to a central dumpsite. This leaves tonnes of unsightly waste to pile in open markets, drains and on roadsides everyday. Unfortunately, the city slums are the least served by the waste collection companies.

Ideally, waste management is the responsibility of both the national government and county government. Various ways of managing the waste including composting are given to the private sector and non-government actors at different levels.

In an effort to address poor solid waste management, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority has developed minimum requirements for adoption by counties in managing trash. These include designation, securing and manning disposal sites, promotion of efficient collection and transportation of waste.

The basic requirements were expected to ensure continuous promotion of efficient solid waste management. This strategy will build on on-going waste management efforts towards attaining full compliance and ensuring a clean and healthy environment.

Read also: Sweeping your front yard to clean Mathare River

Waste management facilities

Mostly, the county government plays a big role in waste management. Subject to certification by the national government, a counties issue licenses to the operators of waste management facilities. Another role of the counties in waste segregation is the promotion and facilitation of compliance.

The role of the national government is to set standards and verify compliance with the standards while counties issue licenses and ensure compliance with the conditions of the licenses as well as implementation of the processes. Another role of national government is to ensure that vehicles transporting waste meet the standards.

There are county refuse trucks that collect trash within the CBD and market places. But in most cases, the refuse trucks operate within the city leaving the outcast to private entities.

The county government awards tenders to other private parties to ensure mass garbage collection. These private refuse trucks tend to collect trash even at residential areas, courts, apartments and other private entities mostly.

During former Govenor Mike Sonkos regime, the top performing collectors included Zizeri Kenya garbage collectors, Leinad enterprises and limited.

Under the current devolved governance, Governor Johnson Sakaja has given Eco-Urban waste management, Ujamaa waste services, Trash it and haul it among others the job to clean the city.

Despite the efforts, waste management remains a menace in Nairobi. Far flung Singapore seems to offer tips on solid waste management. Singapore manages its solid waste by burning them to ash and then later on dumps it into their ocean territories to aid growth of coral reefs.

[email protected]

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.