Nairobi residents at risk of waterborne diseases as floods wreak havoc

A section of Enterprise road in Nairobi submerged floods following heavy rains. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Nairobi residents risk contracting waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea due to floods caused by ongoing rains.

Residents lamented that the poor urban planning coupled with poor sewer systems have exposed them to diseases due to risk of water contamination.

The floods have damaged water pipes cutting of supply to many estates.

At Kimondo area in Kware Ward, Embakasi South for instance, the ground floor of some buildings was marooned by floods forcing tenants to vacate.

The situation is worse in Kibra, Mukuru and Mathare slums where access to toilets is a challenge and open defecation is still common.

In some estates, floods have damaged sewer lines exposing residents to waterborne diseases.

The illegal water harvesting further puts Kenyans at risk, as floods increase the chances of contamination.

“We ask the government to bring us food, water and water treatment drugs since we cannot use our water for drinking due to the flooding, which has affected our water,” said Regina Mwelu, a landlord of a 16-storey apartment that is now vacant.

In some city estates, boreholes have been filled up with surface runoff.

Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) last week announced a water shortage due to repairs to the damaged pipe along Outering Road.

The water pipe passes under Donholm Bridge, where the Ngong River also flows.

“The pipe comes from Gigiri reservoir, through Karura, and Outering Road to serve the nearby estates all the way to Eastern Bypass,” NCWSC Managing Director Nahashon Muguna said.

According to Dr Kepha Ombacho, former director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health, after the long rains, Kenyans should expect disease outbreaks.

“One will be waterborne and water-related diseases including diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. What needs to be done urgently is testing water sources to know the level of contamination, including toilets and septic tanks,” said Dr Ombacho.

He warned that the rains could also bring long-term issues like pneumonia and the City-County needs to continuously monitor the health of the people.

“This requires a multi-sectoral approach and it’s good that the Principal Secretary for Health has issued a warning,” he said.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health sounded the alarm over the imminent threat of a cholera outbreak, urging citizens to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry through Public Health Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni, emphasized the severity of the situation.

PS also underscored the preventable nature of waterborne illnesses like cholera.

The government disclosed that one case of cholera had been reported in Tana River County on April 26.

The Ministry has identified several risk factors contributing to the spread of this deadly disease, chief among them being the destruction of sanitation facilities during the prolonged rains.

The ministry said floods have led to the filling up, and collapse of pit latrines together with burst sewer lines, which worsen the risk of contamination of food and water.

“These mix water sources with fecal matter, thus underscoring the immediate and considerable risk of waterborne diseases during this time,” the Ministry stated.

Nairobi County Chief Officer of Public Health Tom Nyakaba said they have increased water and food surveillance and reporting.

“We are doing massive chlorination because we had a lot of water sources that were destroyed in areas like Ng’ando in Dagorreti sub-county, where people use community wells and areas in informal settlements,” said Nyakaba.

“We are waiting for water to subside then we start doing disinfection in homes because initially we were not able to do it due to a lot of free fall water. Our teams have now embarked on that being well coordinated by our sub-county and ward levels by their respective public health officers," he added. 

Nyakaba disclosed that they are also testing water carriers to ensure that what they are carrying is safe.

“We have also mapped boreholes and tested the water inside to ensure it is safe for human consumption,” he said.

Currently in Nairobi, there are over 7,000 boreholes in Nairobi majority of which were sunk illegally.