Urgent policies needed to curb rising city pollution

County workers clean the polluted Nairobi River on February 22, 2019. PHOTO | POOL

The UN-Habitat gathering in Nairobi, which ended recently deliberated on issues relating to the evolving city landscapes. Like many other urban dwellers, the deteriorating quality of life for most of us is a top concern.

Air pollution, poor sanitation, a lack of roads and other social amenities pose serious obstacles to our quest for fulfilling lives.

The UN-Habitat estimates that by 2030 urban dwellers would outnumber rural ones, and cities would be home to more than half of our current population.

Two categories of such “cities” exist, already established ones that keep growing, and towns or municipalities expected to attain city status.

Locally, Kisumu, Nakuru are examples of newbie cities while Machakos would be the latter kind, waiting in the wings. In both these types, a commonality is the apparent lack of planning and sheer underfunding of key services.

If you were fortunate enough to live in Nairobi, especially in one of the county housing estates, there was a semblance of order. Service delivery, utilities, garbage collection, education as well as social amenities were available.

It has been more than 20 years now since I saw the green overalls city cleaning department staff in the neighbourhoods. The chaos seems to have started in the 90s, as migrants arrived far outstripping existing infrastructure. The quick-fix makeshift housing solutions often came from individual developers, sometimes in contravention of city planning bylaws.


Thirty years down the road, we find ourselves in the current inextricable quandary.

For the new cities to be, perhaps a learning opportunity presents itself, on a path not to pursue.

In response to the current crisis, the government’s plan to increase housing (an ambitious 500,000) homes within three years, is just part of the band-aids. Where the associated amenities for the infrastructure will come from is not indicated. Just for these, a whopping 50 million litres of clean water is needed, going by a modest 100-litre modern household average daily consumption on a water-rationing mode. Similarly, the handling of the efflux is not accompanied by plans for new sewer lines and treatment plans.

The reemergence of cholera, typhoid and raging H. pylori infections, easily measures of access to quality clean water, are disturbing for health system managers.

To give an illustration, a drive down Thika Road reveals the staggering populations. Where the water and waste are handled leaves lots of questions.

Amongst other challenges emerging from the poor planning, inadequate transport infrastructure for the working class leads to time-consuming commutes.

Nairobi is hovering in ticking sanitation, clean transport and environmental time-bomb, whose solution is not more houses. To fix this, your collective voices are needed and a strong residential and neighbourhood association rebirth is a beginning.

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