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Nairobi churches and pubs are driving us deaf

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 Noise levels are sickening Photo: Courtesy

Nairobi is one hell of a noisy place. What with jua kali operators banging away their day, hired hands clanging bells on pavements and blaring music deafening residents from stalls and shops to lure customers.

Meanwhile, matatu touts will be yelling their voices hoarse as the mathrees engage in a ‘honking competition’ that just barely muffles the megaphone-wielding, shouting street preachers frothing at the mouth.

And of course there’s the muezzin who like clockwork, will rent the air five times a day from different mosques, calling the Muslim faithful to prayers.

But what is the required noise intensity levels prescribed by the late Environment Minister John Michuki? Who cares!

Good news is that if you are a prayerful city resident who tithes and observes the 10 Commandments, you are likely to go to heaven. The bad news is that you are likely to get there deaf.

A noise mapping study conducted last year by the Department of Geospatial and Space Technology at the University of Nairobi, showed that noise levels in the city centre vary between 61 decibels west to a high of 78 decibels in the east, most of it attributed to vehicular traffic.

 Sections of Kilimani residents expressing grievances over loud music from clubs in the area Photo: James Mwangi

“These results indicate that noise levels in Nairobi are high enough to warrant the attention of environmental authorities,” the report stated.

And now, a Ministry of Health national survey on deafness released in August 2016 warns that one in every 10 Kenyan suffers from a hearing impairment because of prolonged exposure to loud music in public transport and clubs. Dr Peter Ochungo, a hearing specialist at Nairobi Women’s Hospital, describes the rate of deafness in Kenya as alarming.

Dr Ochungo said half of hearing loss cases in adults stem from noises exceeding 40 decibels in matatus, entertainment spots, churches and workplaces.

Nairobi City County government has identified clubs, evangelical churches, mosques and matatus as the emperors of noise disturbance. About 76 clubs across the city are on the county spotlight and so are a dozen churches that make many a resident’s nights hell on earth.

But while the city is annoyingly noisy, the resolve to tame perpetrators has become a ping-pong affair. Whose call is it? City Hall, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) or the police?

Kilimani residents demonstrated how exasperating noisy neighbourhoods can be when they staged a vigil past midnight outside a pub on November 3 to express their discontent with loud music emanating from the club and two others in the area.

The demo was a culmination of complaint letters to the county government and over 20 reports to Kilimani Police Station regarding three clubs.

Affected tenants reportedly moved out of the area, while some of those who remained claim they have resorted to using ear plugs and covering their windows with mattresses and cardboards to muffle the bedlam.

“You feel like the deejay is in your sitting room. Sometimes we send our kids away to relatives in other neighbourhoods so that they could have peace of mind,” said Kate Anampiu, a resident.

Kilimani OCPD Peter Katam, confirmed that the residents have filed complaints over noisy clubs in the area, but added that police have no authority to raid premises for noise pollution.

“When there are fights or cases related to illegal drugs, we carry out raids. But on noise, the mandate rests with the county government. We only come in to assist county officers.

Of course if the nuisance becomes too much, we’ll order them (clubs) to lower the volume of their music,” said Katam

. The county is aware that this is a problem, with an insider pointing out that on average, they receive between six and 10 complains daily about clubs, churches and mosques in residential areas.

Nema initially tackled the noise menace before the function was devolved to county authorities. The authority however still receive dozens of complaints that are forwarded to the county government.

“We get hundreds of cases in a month, but we forward them to the county government for action. Other times, we direct them to City Hall, but many give up,” a Nema officer said.

Kasarani, Nairobi West, Embakasi, the city centre, Ngong Road and Pipeline are said to be some of the notorious hoods for booming music.

Even some leafy suburbs are not spared. But it’s not just pubs which are causing a nuisance. Ironically, houses of God which should offer spiritual sanctuary are also being blamed.

A senior county environment officer told The Nairobian that churches have become such a nuisance that they want to close down some within residential areas.

“Even before we test sound intensity levels in some churches, you can tell it is double the set limits of 40 decibels. It is not only a nuisance to neighbours, but detrimental to even the worshippers,” he said.

County officers have been conducting raids on Fridays, making arrests and confiscating equipment in an average of five clubs and two churches, but that rarely scares them off.

“We confiscate their costly equipment but they pay the fines, take them back and get back to business with impunity. And so we start all over again and it is the same thing every week.

We have been injured during raids in noisy pubs, while pastors have threatened to curse us when we disconnect and confiscate their equipment,” said the officer who let on that two mosques in Lavington and Eastlands and tens of evangelical churches in the city, will soon be dealt with for violating noise pollution guidelines.

Reverend David Githii of El Gibbor Church, acknowledged that many money-oriented churches are notorious for playing loud music and shouting to attract attention, money and following.

“There is an extent of loudness in church that is not reasonable to neighbours and the congregation inside. Churches should be mindful of neighbours who need sleep and rest.

We need to moderate loudspeakers within the church and little or no noise should be heard a few metres from church’s compund,” said Githii.

He added that, “Late at night and early morning, churches should be silent. This exaggeration of worship is unnecessary. I support law enforcers to take action against such churches.”

But it is matatus which are driving everyone crazy, hooting wildly and playing thunderous music as the undermanned Nairobi City County environmental law enforcement team of 14 look on helplessly.

Ironically, many passengers love the earsplitting music so much and pay for it, and hence, many perpetrators would rather risk the fines that range from Sh2,000 to tens of thousands.

City Hall has however already ordered for 10 noise metres worth Sh15 million to boost enforcement and subsequent punishment of culprits.

The county environment boss, Eng Peter Kimori, insists that the government is not overwhelmed by the devolved noise control function.

“Noise problem is a manageable issue if there is discipline and people comply with laws and court orders,” said Kimori.

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