When we think about rivers, streams of clear, fresh water might be what comes to mind. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the people of Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi River has long been suffering from pollution and contamination, which in turn affects the people living nearby. The Nairobi Rivers Commission is the Kenyan government’s recent initiative to restore the river.
Nairobi River pollution
The Nairobi River flows in the heart of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. It is the main river of the Nairobi River Basin, with several other streams flowing in parallel. In the early 1990s, children were able to swim in the river. Now, the river stream has turned black, highly unsuited for human activities.
The lack of effective waste management systems is a major contributor to the river pollutants. Agricultural runoffs, untreated industrial and household waste, and plastic dumping all contaminate the stream. Studies have found that the water in the Nairobi River contains levels of metal that go far beyond the WHO and Kenyan governments’ standards. High levels of E-coli bacteria, up to one million units in 100ml of water, were also found.
Despite the apparent danger, the communities living near the river still utilize and depend on it to fulfill their daily needs. Farmers irrigate their crops using contaminated water. Others have no other option but to wash their clothes with dirty water from the river because buying clean water is costly.
The Nairobi Rivers Commission
For decades, numerous initiatives have been commenced to restore the Nairobi River. However, the river and its adjacent environment continue to suffer from heavy pollution. In February 2023, the President of Kenya launched the Nairobi Rivers Commission as the newest plan for restoring the basin of Nairobi Rivers and all water bodies, including the Ngong River, Nairobi River, and Mathare River.
Inger Andersen, the Under-Secretary-General of UNEP, said this initiative differs from the previous ones because “we all know we cannot afford to fail.” She further emphasized this initiative is about “engaging with the private sector, local businesses, the judiciary, and communities.”
Installing proper sewage systems is among the many agendas of the initiative. The Nairobi Rivers Commission will build on the lessons learned from previous initiatives. It invites county governments, civil society organizations, private sector actors, and other related stakeholders to collaborate to oversee the Nairobi River’s restoration. The UN-Habitat, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Research Institute will be among the members of the Advisory Group.
Hoping for results
River restoration is critical for a healthy environment. This new approach is hoped to restore the rivers’ conditions and improve the lives of communities in Nairobi. Proper monitoring and evaluation are critical in ensuring the program’s effectiveness as the plan progresses.
“This state of affairs must come to an end, and the unsafe and unhealthy environmental situation must be corrected to restore Nairobi to its true identity. We have resolved that the city must not only reclaim its glorious reputation as Africa’s green city in the sun but must also live up to its ancestral identity as the river of cool, fresh, and safe water,” said Kenya’s President William Ruto.
Editor: Nazalea Kusuma
Madina is the Assistant Manager for Program at Green Network Asia. She is an English major graduate from Universitas Indonesia with two
years of demonstrated experience in editorial and creative writing,
researching, editing, and creating content.