Kenya: Nema Launches Campaign to Clean Up Nairobi River Basin

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has embarked on a clean-up of the Nairobi River basin in order to save the Sh82 billion Thwake Dam from pollution.

Early this month, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the authority to ensure polluted tributaries draining into the dam are cleaned in order for water fed into the dam to be safe for human consumption.

This is after Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu raised the alarm over the safety of the water that will be fed into the dam, saying the polluted and unsafe water could render the dam a white elephant. This followed a damning environmental and social impact assessment of the project.

On Thursday, Nema Director-General Mamo Boru said that they have already begun the cleanup and that it will take 90 days to ensure the entire system is free from pollutants.

The dam's main supply is Athi River, whose main tributary is the Nairobi River and which is polluted with heavy metals, residual faecal and organic matter.

Illegal discharge points

Last week, Nema inspected the Nairobi River basin from Ondiri swamp all the way to Thwake and identified 142 illegal discharge points, 42 industrial facilities and 75 illegal structures along the river which have been marked for demolition.

Mr Boru pointed out that they have also mapped out all informal settlements along the river basin and identified 54 illegal dumpsites for closure.

"We want to assure citizens that water that will be getting to Thwake Dam will be spotlessly clean once we are through in the next three months. We began last week and we are giving ourselves 90 days to do so," said Mr Boru.

Subsequently, a multi-agency team has been established as part of a multi-pronged strategy to ensure only clean water gets into the dam.

Nairobi Metropolitan Services will be charged with addressing solid waste management issues, Water Resources Authority will test water quality and peg riparian areas, Athi Water Works will improve sewerage infrastructure while Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company will ensure proper management of the sewerage system by repairing the broken ones and unblocking the blocked ones in order to have a functional sewerage system in Nairobi.

Tana and Athi River Development Authority (Tarda) will be charged with protecting catchment areas from degradation, siltation and encroachment while the National Youth Service will assist in clean-ups.

"We also intend to rope in officers from Machakos, Kajiado, Kiambu and Nairobi to join the team," he said.

Closure notices

Mr Boru pointed out that they had in 2019 issued closure notices to the owners of the 42 industrial facilities but offered them a grace period last year because of Covid-19 disruptions.

However, the facilities now have two weeks to comply by putting up functioning effluent treatment plants.

Already, the Nema police unit and 22 environmental inspectors have visited 12 facilities and issued six improvement orders to the industries, he added.

"We have already given them time and we will now embark on closure of the facilities that do not have effluent treatment plants," he said.

He explained that the major challenge they are facing are broken and dysfunctional sewer lines, with the authority identifying 28 concealed illegal pipes discharging effluent into the river from residential areas, which they blocked.

"The flats are not connected to sewer lines depending on septic tanks. When full, they do a bypass and [direct] the concealed pipes into the river. The issue is prevalent around Kilimani area, Kikuyu area all the way to Wanyi bridge," he said.

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