Why Dandora trash pickers want City Hall, Nema punished

A woman wades in mud out of the Dandora dumping site in Nairobi on May 31, 2021, with a sack-load of her day's scavenging fortunes. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

From a distance, a pungent smell and smoke from Dandora Dumpsite fill the air as the fire slowly but steadily competes with scavengers for the heaps of fresh garbage brought by lorries from the estates.

The acres of piled-up garbage are a sore to the eyes as one hops and jumps to beat babies’ nappies, women’s tampons and pads, used hospital tools such as syringes, and broken glasses, to say the least.

 The 46-hectare site has, however, been a faithful employer as women, children and men earn a living from picking wigs, and recyclable bags, which they wash and return to the market at a cheaper cost.

A kilo of recyclable plastic fetches around Sh17 while the same quantity of recyclable bags will attract up to Sh50, depending on the size.

At the same time, there is unwanted furniture, plastics, and e-waste dumped by the truckers, which is collected and re-sold for recycling.

What is unsalvageable is lit.

The smoke and the stench from the site are now at the heart of a case filed by 1,032 waste parkers who accuse the government of poor waste management and failure to heed to several reports, dating back 16 years ago that warn Dandora is a killer site.

It is a source of livelihood for at least 200,000 people.

Their lawyer, Kenneth Amondi, argues that is normal for women working at the site to have irregular periods.

Some, he says, bleed for months owing to the toxins they breathe every day. Amondi further states other female clients have to wait for up to eight months to get their periods.

 Court documents filed by Amondi before the Lands and Environment Court and exclusively obtained by The Standard read that anyone who works at the site is exposed to 23 times the amount of mercury that is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and those working nearing the riverbank are exposed to 9.3 times of the acceptable concentration level.

WHO’s approval is 2 parts per million (ppm). Ppm is the number of units of mass of an impurity per million units of total mass.

Further, the group led by Abigael Namayi states that the soil at the site has 13, 500 lead concertation against the zero-amount recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the waste packers, Kenya produces at least 4,400 tons of plastic waste every day.

 They argue that out of this, nearly a half end up at Dandora.

Dandora, according to the packers, holds more than three times its capacity and has more than 1.8 million tons of solid waste.  

Court papers read that health officials had in 2001, declared Dandora full. In the case, they have sued the Nairobi County Government and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).

 The petitioners also argue that the county collects fees daily from the site while knowing that it exposes anyone seeking bread from the site to extremely toxic waste.

“Despite being declared full by health officials in 2001 and despite a June 16, 2021 court ruling ordering its closure within six months, Dandora still receives over 2000 tons of waste a day.

The consequences of pollution at Dandora dumpsite are irreversible, uncertain, catastrophic, continuing and the harm is severe and with the capacity to affect many people, often over long periods of time and significant distances,” argues Amondi.

They assert that despite the two being ordered by Justice Kossy Bor to stop dumping and burning litter, the same has continued to date

In a radical judgment, Justice Bor in 2021 ordered the county and Nema to close down Dandora dumpsite and establish a new place with systems to separate degradable and biodegradable trash and recycle it.

At the same time, the two institutions were also required to identify harmful materials and processes at the 30-acre dumpsite within 30 days.

“NMS shall close the dumpsite within six months and rehabilitate it. In the intervening period, it shall take all steps to ensure the dumpsite is managed in a way that does not harm the environment and humans. There will be no burning of plastic or other waste in the Dandora dumpsite,” ordered Justice Bor.

According to the orders, Dandora was to be closed within six months.

They assert that Nairobi County is not keen to sort the Dandora dumpsite. They also want the court to adopt the Indian National Green Tribunal, New Delhi’s judgment to punish the polluter. The Indian tribunal slapped the State of Maharashtra with Sh211 billion bill for continuing damage to the environment.

“The defendant is not keen to solve the environmental disaster at the Dandora dumpsite and so the best recourse is for the court to adopt the Indian approach of quantifying liability,” says Amondi. At the same time, they are demanding that the court force the county and Nema to rehabilitate the landfill.

The packers argue that a feasibility study that had been done sometime in 2011 indicated that Sh2.2 billion would be enough to clean and rehabilitate the dump site.

 However, they estimate that the amount should be raised by Sh1 billion owing to inflation. They are also seeking orders to ring-fence the Sh3.2 billion. Further, they want the court to order for Sh500,000 compensations.

“The defendants have empirical data and evidence from their own thoroughbred research done as early as 2011 demonstrating that the conditions at the Dandora dumpsite are inhuman coupled with toxic chemicals and gasses which are a health hazard but have all along been reluctant to implement the same,” Amondi adds.