Mary Wachuka carefully plucks stinging nettle plants sprouting along drainage leading to the nearby Manguo swamp.
As she engages two other women who join her in harvesting the wild edible plant that is used as vegetable, murky effluent discharges from the surrounding settlement, flows freely before disappearing into the long reeds in the swamp.
Although pollution of the wetland by wastewater and sewage bothers them, the dumping of fetuses in the disappearing wetland is more startling.
“We cannot go past three months without seeing an aborted fetus dumped here. And that is just what we see, maybe there are more than decompose without being discovered. We don’t know whether they are dumped by residents from here or brought from elsewhere,” says Wachuka.
Wachuka notes the abandonment of the dying Manguo wetland coupled with pollution has turned it into a dumping site and a ‘convenient’ location for women who do not want to keep the pregnancy.
“The swamp is covered with long reeds and the perpetrators could be taking advantage of the fact that people do not go near the swamp in fear of hippo attacks,” she notes.
Manguo wetland in Laikipia County emanates from Lake Ol Bolossat in Nyandarua, and apart from the threat of drying up completely due to extensive and unregulated human activities, pollution adds to its woes.
“Two bodies have been retrieved from the swamp within a year, yet people depend on this water,” says Wachuka.
Last month, a decomposed body of a man was retrieved from the wetland near the Nyeri-Nyahururu road.
“When we don’t have money to buy water, we fetch from the river, but now, it is too risky to drink the water from a source where bodies are being retrieved now and then,” laments Wachuka.
Further, the community which heavily relies on vegetables grown along the wetland is worried about the high level of pollution with those living downstream more exposed.
Laikipia County police commander John Nyoike said the body of an unidentified man was retrieved from the river and that investigation is ongoing. However, he noted that there are no reports of foetuses being dumped in the swamp as claimed by locals.
“If someone aborts an unborn baby, police may not be aware of it. It could be happening secretly in the villages but no one has reported such to us,” said Nyoike.
According to the police commander, residents could be of more help had they been reporting about dumped foetuses.
Despite the police denial, residents of Manguo and those living downstream are now staring at the danger of contracting diseases and losing their source of livelihood if conservation of the wetland is not done.
“It is possible for such social ills to occur but we may not know about it if people don’t report. I ask residents to report such incidents to the police or the local authorities,” said County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri
He added; “It would be easy for us to investigate and trace where the foetuses could be coming from if we had reports and statistics, but we will follow up the matter for investigations to be conducted.”
The administrator emphasised the need to protect and conserve wetlands in the county that have faced perennial resource-based conflicts involving communities against each other or against wildlife.
Manguo, which means hippos in the local dialect is also notorious for hippo attacks as encroachment into the riparian area increases.
“You cannot walk near the wetland early in the morning or past 7 pm because the hippos are roaming looking for food. Children have to go to school past the set time or be accompanied by parents,” said Lilian Wanjiku, a resident.
Villagers are now digging troughs to bar the mammals from accessing their homes.
“The wetland had a lot of water a few years ago, but currently, the levels have gone down. It is now a danger to us because of the hippo attacks. We appeal to the authorities to fence it to bar them. The issue of bodies being dumped here will also be a thing of the past,” states Wachuka.