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Will new sewer line cure Narok’s waste disposal headache?

Narokdrainage

A drainage system built by the Narok County to help curb the perennial floods. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NMG

Summary

  • Proper sanitation and stormwater management remain the two major challenges for devolved governments in Kenya.
  • In Narok, the lack of sewer systems has not only affected the health of residents but also their economy as thousands of shillings are spent each month by building owners to extract and dispose of human waste.
  • According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census report, only 0.5 per cent of households in Narok is connected to the main sewer while about 2.1 per cent use septic tanks.

For most of their lives, Narok residents have borne the heavy burden of frequent flooding, non-stop diseases, and hefty expenses brought from the lack of a reliable sewer system in the county.

It has been a long and daunting wait for these residents who are now filled with much expectation as the county is about to complete one of its mega infrastructure projects that will transform the lives of 1.2 million people.

Proper sanitation and stormwater management remain the two major challenges for devolved governments in Kenya.

In Narok, the lack of sewer systems has not only affected the health of residents but also their economy as thousands of shillings are spent each month by building owners to extract and dispose of human waste.

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census report, only 0.5 per cent of households in Narok is connected to the main sewer while about 2.1 per cent use septic tanks.

On the other hand, almost half of Narok’s population (49.2 per cent) use covered pit latrines and 28.2 per cent use the open bush for human waste disposal.

Residents here have in the past expressed their frustration of having to pay each month for exhauster services, which has consequently pushed rent prices higher as landlords pass the costs to their tenants.

However, Willis Onyango, a resident, says the sewer project might help eradicate this challenge.

“There is a serious problem here in Narok. We do not have sewer systems at all. We usually use exhauster services. Because of this, we see a lot of sewer flowing in the town, even near places we eat from or do our businesses. But the county government is trying. We are very hopeful that the town will be clean once it’s launched,” he said.

Since July 2019, Narok has embarked on an ambitious project to install a Sh1.7 billion 51-kilometre sewerage system that will see residents connected to a single sewer line. Almost one-and-a-half years later, the project is now in its final stages, with most of the sewer piping installed and a storage facility established.

While touring part of the sewer project installation site, county Water Executive John Kiyapi said Narok has been seeking innovative waste management solutions.

“Although we had good temporary spaces that the county government had designated, the population of Narok is rapidly growing, creating pressure on the waste disposal areas. Similarly, it became increasingly expensive for residents to keep using exhauster services,” he said.

exhauster services

A spot check in Narok town and its environs reveals the piling pressure that the rapidly growing population piles on the exhauster services.

The exhausters extract and transport the waste more than 82 kilometres to Bomet where it is disposed of.

As a temporary solution, the county had set aside a quarry near Narok town as a disposal site. However, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) shut the quarry after it got full and was spilling the waste into the adjacent Enkare Narok River.

“It is because of these reasons that the county resolved to invest in a quality sewer system that would be installed in little time with few man-power, would require very little maintenance and would have a long lifespan decades to come,” Mr Kiyapi added.

Embracing new technology

While embarking on this mega project, Narok realised that bringing innovative solutions would be the best method in providing and maintaining safe offsite and decentralised sanitation systems.

This was necessitated by the urgent need of quickly laying out a system that will not only take a short time to install but also serve the rapidly growing population.

Unlike the normal concrete sewer systems, Narok partnered with Kenyan Company Megapipes Solutions to install systems made up high-density polyethene (HDPE) otherwise known as Weholite that is believed to be more durable and effective than the concrete pipes.

“The project comprises sewer lines that cover about 51 kilometres and waste stabilisation points with a capacity of 3,500 metres cubic per day.

Since April last year, we have completed about 80 per cent of the entire project. This has mainly been facilitated by the type of material we are using, which are the high-density polyethene pipes,” says Narok Sewerage project assistant resident engineer Paul Njuguna.

In a day, engineers on average install about 100 metres of the HDPE sewer pipes.

Compared to concrete pipes that have been in use, this installation is twice as fast.

“The pipes we are using come in a longer piece as compared to the concrete pipes making them easier and quicker to install.

“Due to their length, there are fewer joints, meaning there will be fewer leakages if any, which is a factor that we considered greatly while laying out the plans for this project,” says Mr Njuguna.

While referring the cost-effectiveness on the long-term, project supervisor Daniel Mshana explained that in addition to its ease of installation, which saves money and time, the HDPE piping is resistant to corrosion or any other damage particularly those that result from chemicals commonly found in raw sewage.

“This would be particularly important for counties that have industries such as Nairobi, where there is the discharge of heavy chemicals.

“Due to its flexibility, the pipes can be further integrated with existing piping including those that are made of concrete,” he added.

As part of the development goals, including Vision 2030, Kenya had set a target of 40 per cent sewerage collection, treatment, and disposal in urban centres and 10 per cent in rural areas by 2015.

However, this has not been achieved in many counties, primarily due to a lack of funds, high maintenance costs and reliable technology to achieve the desired target in a short time.

Similarly, a lack of proper settlement planning, especially in rural areas makes it even more difficult to set up adequate sewerage systems.

As it stands now, about 30 million Kenyans still use unsafe sanitation methods like rudimentary types of latrines, and almost six million defecate in the open. This is not just limited to rural areas as access to improved sanitation is a major challenge both in urban and rural areas.

Urban planning

According to a report by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, it costs Kenya an estimated $324 million (Sh3.24 billion) annually to bridge the gaps in its sanitation and hygiene services.

In urban areas, the challenge is even more daunting than in the rural areas as population growth outstrips the provision of basic services, sanitation included.

Moreover, urban planning hardly precedes settlement, making it much harder for utilities to provide water and sanitation services.

At the same time, having a toilet, either connected or not connected to a piped wastewater system is only one part of faecal waste management.

Inter-linkages with other services, including stormwater drainage, solid waste and water supply further compound sanitation in urban areas.

For this reason, a suitable sewer system should incorporate plans for maintenance going into the future.

However, Narok Water and Sewerage Company managing director Stanley Kuyioni says the sewer project would require minimum maintenance given its quality.

He said the overall goal for the project is not only to facilitate the development of the county but also play a critical role in the housing health and sectors as well as urbanisation as part of the Big Four agenda.

“Most of the diseases treated at our health centres and hospitals are wash related. Issues such as open defecation is a serious problem as there are no other available alternatives.

The project has, therefore, come at a good time and will greatly help the county achieve a good quality of life for its residents,” he added.

With the project nearing completion, Narok residents have shown much anticipation of the benefits it will bring, with many predicting better standards of living. It is expected that the sewer project will be complete by the end of the year, as most of the installation and construction are currently in their final stages.