A thick layer of greyish fluid emitting a foul and chocking odour rests atop the waters of the Indian Ocean as the tides ebb at Mombasa’s Old Town beach.
It is late in the morning. Waters are flowing away uncovering the cruel destruction of the marine ecosystem along the coast that was once known for its clean beaches.
Concrete sewers from Kibokoni, a populous estate south-east of the island, are releasing raw sewage into the ocean just next to the local fish market.
The reflux of the tide towards deep sea leaves behind a foul-smelling sludge on the beaches.
Beneath the marvelous ancient architectural apartments and luxury hotels dotting the Mombasa beaches is a fetid and festering sewage problem.
The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) says all the five storm-water drainage systems on the island have been turned into human waste sewers.
“The storm drains have been illegally connected with sewage lines and are taking human waste into the Indian Ocean,” said Nema’s Mombasa county boss Stephen Wambua.
A site near Mombasa Country Club adjacent to Fort Jesus releases gallons of untreated sewage into the ocean, posing health risk to locals and beach-goers.
The storm drain is now used to move human waste from Old Town, Kizingo and town centre into the ocean. All five sewage pump stations in the island are faulty.
Several apartments in Kizingo and Old Town do not have septic tanks and soft pits as required by law.
“It is a beach of human waste. It is an eyesore that the county government appears to have given a blind eye,” said Mzee Babloo Nassir, an Old Town community leader.
The problem, however, starts from residential estates and markets in the island.
At MacKinnon open air market near the Digo Road roundabout, several broken manholes are releasing raw sewage into the streets.
The manhole that covers one of the five storm water pipes is now being used by traders slaughtering the chicken for their customers as drainage system for the blood.
The mixture emits an awful stench, but the traders appear unperturbed.
At Sega market, the second biggest fresh vegetable and fish market in the city after MacKinnon, customers are forced to hop-skip-and-jump over pools or streams of sewage.
We also established that out of over 100 tourist hotels along the North Coast, only about three have proper sewage treatment plants.
Although some hotels claim to have established waste water stabilisation ponds, most use septic tanks that are emptied by sewage truck collectors or ‘honey suckers’.
“Most hotels use bio-digesters while others use the septic system. Very few hotels have not complied. We have closed two that have not complied,” said Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Executive Officer Sam Ikwaye
Dr Ikwaye, who speaks on behalf of hoteliers, said hotels pay high waste disposal compliance levy and it was unfair to force them to construct their sewage treatment plants.
He added: “We propose that the government should build common user facilities for tourist hotels in North and South Coast. It is the government’s responsibility.”
Ben Wemali, a director of Active Environmental Team, claimed hoteliers were feigning ignorance and that sewage collected from their premises is poured into the ocean.
Privately owned honey-suckers are licensed by the county and Nema to operate between 6am and 6pm and dispose sewage at the county-run sewage treatment plant in Kipevu.
According to Nema, the Kipevu Sewage treatment plant owned by the government is old and cannot handle the volumes of sewage in the county.
Mr Wambua said when the plant operates optimally, it can handle 80 per cent of sewage. He said currently the plant is defective. At Muoroto in Tudor, Mzee Haji Ramadhan said they have been forced to relocate their fishing activities to Timbwani after their shores were filled with human waste.
Schools, colleges, prisons and big government institutions also rely on the private owned honey-suckers to collect their waste. Nema has warned Technical University of Mombasa and Kenya Coast National Polytechnic to comply with the sewage disposal regulations or be closed down.
“We have sent notices to the two institutions. We are working with them to make sure that they comply with the law,” said Wambua.
Coast beaches are also littered with plastic bottles and papers despite the existing ban, putting Nema enforcement officials on the spot.
Tourist hotels are under pressure to adopt valuable polyethylene terephthalate plastic bottles, but most still use the banned plastic bottles.
The volume of sewage released into the ocean is not clear, but ecological experts say it is a big concern given the ocean is a source of food for many people in the county.
Water-borne sanitation problem is compounded by the fact that the county still relies on old systems constructed long before independence to serve the privileged few.
According to the 1962 census, Mombasa had a population of 179,000, which has since gone up to about 1,208,333 people, as per the 2019 census report.
It is understood that sewage infrastructure expansion has not grown in tandem with the ballooning population, forcing the masses to use illegal means to dump the waste.
The county is in talks with the World Bank to finance the sewage infrastructure. Among the projects to be financed include the water drain and sewage system on the island and modernisation of the Kipevu Sewage Treatment plant.
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