Murky and turbid: No respite for Nairobi River as State defies courts

Members of a volunteer group cleans up Ngong river. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

As Nairobi River snakes its way from Ondiri Swamp in Kikuyu, where it originates, its bubbles of life are choked by pollutants.

The river is heavily polluted by human and industrial waste, sewage, pharmaceutical waste, chemicals and heavy metals.

Its tributaries are equally polluted.

Attempts to restore the river that flows into Athi River and eventually the Indian Ocean have borne little fruit. Several court orders are yet to be effected and where some efforts have been made, they (conservation efforts) are dogged by numerous court battles.

Last year in July, the government was ordered to clean Nairobi River from its source all the way to River Sabaki, where it gets into the ocean. However, a year has passed and little has been done.

The State was also ordered to collect water at different points of the river, test it and file a report every four months.

Lawyer Kenneth Amondi, who had implored Environment and Lands Court judge Kossy Bor to intervene, told The Standard that no action has been taken.

Attempts to salvage Nairobi River have been met with court battles, which are slowing down conservation efforts.

A good case in point is the battle between National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Kiamaiko abattoirs. Kiamaiko is Nairobi's biggest source of goat meat.

In March this year, Nema announced that the slaughterhouses would be relocated to Njiru.

However, Wario Agal BorBor, Kose Isatu Hibro and Bafkado Nagasa sued the agency, arguing that they had been issued with a licence by Nairobi City County. The licences, they said, expire on December 31 this year.

Justice Oscar Angote ordered the traders to first exhaust Nema's internal dispute mechanism system before approaching the court.

City residents are still enjoying ribs and thighs from Kiamaiko, but the river pollution is yet to be resolved.

In the Amondi case, the judge ordered Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and Nema to construct a dumpsite with facilities to separate degradable and bio-degradable waste and recycle them.

Amondi filed the case on behalf of two Nairobi residents, Isaiah Odando and Wilson Yata.

Justice Bor ordered the now defunct NMS and Nema to clean up Nairobi River from its source to River Sabaki, in Malindi, covering at least 400km.

They were to report to the court every four months on the quality of water from Nairobi River, Athi River and Sabaki River, collected from 12 points.

The judge also directed that all those who have encroached on the riverbanks should be moved.

She ordered Nema to ensure the waters are clean for human consumption and all the counties where Nairobi, Athi, and Sabaki rivers snakes through to ensure there are no harmful human activities.

"The respondent will report in four months the quality of water taken from Nairobi River. It shall file a report in court every four months showing the measures it has taken to ensure River Athi is rid of pollutants," she ruled.

In this case, Nema and NMS were blamed for failing to ensure the water is safe.

Nairobi River traverses Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos, Makueni, Kilifi and Tana River.

Odando and Yata accused NMS and Nema of mishandling the environment and failing to tame runaway water pollution upstream and downstream.

The court heard that improperly treated or untreated effluent from the Dandora Sewerage Treatment Plant and storm water empties into the river.

According to the two petitioners, the polluted water is used for irrigation which exposes consumers of the crops to health hazards.

In this case, NMS and Nema were accused of mishandling the environment and failing to tame runaway water pollution upstream and downstream.

The judge was told that water samples taken from Ondiri springs in Kikuyu, Ndwaru near Kawangware, Chiromo at the Museum Hill interchange, Gikomba, Dandora dumpsite, Pipeline, Thwake in Makueni County and Malindi near Sabaki bridge proved the river was spewing poison on its way into the Indian Ocean.

The water, the court heard, carries unacceptable levels of selenium, copper, aluminum, manganese, iron, bacteria, nitrates, phenolic compounds, cyanide and ammonia. The pollutants, the applicant further said, have caused an upsurge in cancer and respiratory diseases.

At the same time, the water was said to contain deadly metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium Boiling the water does not make it safe.

NMS said it had taken several measures to clean up Nairobi River, including closure of 74 illegal effluent discharge points, clearance of 30 discharge points and blockage of 50 discharge points.

It also stated that restoration of Nairobi River was done up to Michuki Park, around Globe Roundabout.

Nema opposed the case. It argued that a raft of measures had been taken to clean the Nairobi and Athi River ecosystem, including demolitions of structures on riparian reserves, resettlement plans, restoration plans, clean-up activities as well as prosecution of offenders.

Nema said the cleaning up and protection of rivers would not be solved by court orders but by the mutual responsibility of the government and the citizens.

Nema in its reply attached a report on compliance of yet another judgment by the High Court in 2017 requiring it to clean Kirichwa Kubwa River, Kileleshwa.

Justice Bor, in a case filed by Castle Rock Gardens Management against Nema and Ministry of Environment, ordered the agency to clean the tributary.

Castle Rock's Director Kenneth Waithaka Kanyarati told the court that the river's condition was deteriorating due to wanton pollution upstream.

Justice Bor visited the site on June 29, 2018 in the presence of lawyers for all the parties. She noted that there were pipes draining sewage into the river and there was a foul smell in the area. There is no access to the river.

For her to access the river, the electric fence next to Castle Rock Apartments had to be disabled.

She noted that there were several points at which Kirichwa River was being polluted.

Justice Bor ordered the ministry, Nema, county and Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company to survey Kirichwa River and determine the riparian reserve and restore it.

The reports were to be submitted periodically until the waters would be finally clean.

In a separate case, filed by Milimani Splendor Management Limited, against Nema, Nairobi County, the Attorney General and Water Resources Management Authority (Warma), the court ordered them to restore Kirichwa River in 2019.

Justice Bor gave them 90 days to report to the court.

The national environment tribunal had also separately ordered Nema to clean up Nairobi River and clear all buildings constructed around it.

The case was filed by Joyti Hardware Limited, which sought an order stopping Nema from demolishing its property.

On August 26, 2021, the tribunal barred Nema from demolishing Joyti's property, but ordered that it should take action on anyone who fails to honour anti-dumping laws.

" The appellants (Joyti) shall ensure that no waste is dumped in the river or along the riverbank. The first respondent (Nema) shall conduct an inspection of the banks along the Nairobi River and commence enforcement action against the Nairobi City County Government and any other relevant parties for violating the anti-dumping measures or failure to enforce the applicable laws and regulations for the cleaning of the Nairobi River," the tribunal led by Mohammed Balala ruled.