Filthy, crowded, unsafe: Nairobi is a failed city - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 7 December 2019

Filthy, crowded, unsafe: Nairobi is a failed city

A view of Nairobi near Ngara stage.
It seems unbelievable that Nairobi is the capital city of East Africa’s biggest economy and that it generates the lion's share of the revenue for the country.
Hidden by the tall, magnificent buildings dotting its skyline and historical sites that are a testimony to its unique history is a city choking in a myriad of problems.
Originally known by the Maasai as Enkare Nairobi (the place of cool waters), the teeming city has become the poster picture of how poor urban planning and leadership can lead to garbage build-up, traffic congestion, condemned structures and illegal buildings, hawkers and street families, among other poor urbanisation problems.
For a city once nicknamed the Green City in the Sun’, it is a jarring irony that Nairobi now chokes in its own garbage.
The mounds of filth littering every part of the city – including the central business district – is an indictment of poor solid waste management by urban planning authorities.
Margaret Njeri, a food vendor in Kangemi market, is familiar with the consequences of the garbage build-up on her business.
“This garbage next to my stall chases potential customers away. The more it stays here, the more money I lose,” the 35-year old mother of two laments.
The Integrated Solid Waste Management plan developed in 2010 by a national task force appointed by the then City Council of Nairobi revealed that the city produced approximately 3,000 tonnes of waste per day.
This amount has certainly increased in the past decade in light of the increasing population of the city.
Granted, past regimes have attempted to improve the county’s handling of waste.
Unfortunately, however, these initiatives have largely failed owing to disjointed efforts among stakeholders and rampant corruption.
Meanwhile, the increasing heaps of garbage continue to expose residents to the risk of diseases.
Hellen Adhiambo, a resident of Mathare 4A, attributes her children’s persistent respiratory problems to poor garbage disposal in her surroundings.
“Most of the time, the garbage is disposed of through burning near the playground where children play. Many times my children start coughing for days after exposure to the hazardous smoke,” she said.
Perennial traffic congestion adds to the list of environmental woes facing Nairobi residents.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the increased number of vehicles on Nairobi’s roads predispose many residents to respiratory illnesses.
Traffic jams also consume a lot of time that would be spent on productive activities.
Elias Mutua, an accountant, is among millions of Nairobians who constantly suffer the pain of traffic congestion.
“I spend such a long time in the jam that by the time I get to the office I am so disoriented. It takes quite some time before I can recollect my senses and focus on my work,” Mutua, who lives along Jogoo Road and works on Ngong Road, explains.
A survey by the World Bank in 2017 revealed that most Nairobi residents cannot reach their workplaces within an hour using public service vehicles (PSVs).
Titled, Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World, the report says delays caused by traffic jams disorient most employees and pressure them at work.
Apart from traffic congestion and poor waste management, Nairobi is infamous for constant violent confrontations between city askaris and hawkers.
Use of coercion by city council askaris to relocate hawkers to their designated areas almost always results in injuries, destruction of property and even deaths.
Hawking has become a double-edged sword that creates employment opportunities for many youth on one hand but also perpetrates congestion in the streets and walkways.
That hawkers fill every available space in the CBD and in residential areas is symptomatic of poor urban planning.
Some businesses also grapple with hawkers who place their wares right in front of their shops and drive away potential customers.
In May, the Nairobi City County Trade Licensing Bill of 2018 was passed into law. It requires all hawkers to apply for a permit from the Directorate of Trade Licensing.
However, the new law may only attract more hawkers to the CBD while heightening tensions among the itinerant traders themselves.
Besides hawkers, the population of street families has increased over the years.
Most of them are young people and children whose talents lie idle as they wallow in psychological distress, health complications, poor hygiene and drug addiction all of which are linked to extreme poverty.
As the harsh conditions of the streets decimate them, many street children and youths resort to mugging, rape and drug peddling to survive.
Clinton James, founder of the Social Action Network Africa (SANA), believes that these criminal actions arise from hopelessness.
“As they grow older, many of these children feel that there is no better future for them. Their aim is to survive and so they resort to these criminal activities to get by,” James, himself a former street child, explains.
Past efforts to integrate street families into rehabilitation programmes have not reduced their population.
Many street youth and children struggle with living conditions at these rehabilitation centres operated by the county government and return to the streets.
Over the years, poor leadership in the city has exacerbated these urbanisation problems.
Preferring to line their pockets with bribes, urban planning officials have repeatedly compromised urban planning.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the construction sector where many buildings have been erected in contravention of the building codes of the city.
An audit of all buildings in 2015 revealed that 58 per cent of structures in the city are unsuitable for habitation.
But the housing crisis in the city compels many residents to live in such buildings at their own risk. The history of collapsed buildings and the resultant injuries and deaths is well documented.
Equally well documented is water scarcity that has become an opportunity for cartels to make a kill.
In March last year, Governor Mike Sonko admitted that over 500,000 residents – mostly slum dwellers – cannot access clean and adequate water.
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko
THE BOSS: Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko
Image: JACK OWUOR
Slum dwellers may be the most affected by water scarcity but those in the middle class are fare no better.
Saada Kimani, a resident of Langata, knows all too well the effect of dry water taps on her daily activities.
“As a woman, water is a necessity so you can imagine the trouble I go through when there's no water. I am always forced to spend an average of Sh500 to buy enough water from the vendors around here,” Saada said.
The 2019 World Urbanisation Prospects report reveals that urban population will continue to grow at a rapid rate until 2050 especially in cities in developing countries.
In Nairobi's case, this means that the current problems will only worsen if nothing is done to realise sustainable urban development.

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