Exposed drains, manholes that swallowed policeman

A deep manhole that caved and has never been properly covered at the junction of Parliament and City Hall roundabout. [Pkemoi Ng'enoh, Standard]

The recent death of a police officer on a rescue mission exposed the city's poor drainage network which has remained in a state of disrepair for many years.

On March 24, Constable David Chesire unknowingly slipped into an uncovered manhole and is said to have been swept away by floods.

It was raining heavily on the fateful day when Chesire, attached to Muoroto Police Post, which is adjacent to Machakos Country Bus Station, noticed a mother and four children struggling to wade through the raging waters.

Instinctively, the officer swung into action to assist the woman and children to safety. After successfully completing his mission, that was the last time Chesire was seen alive, according to his colleagues as relatives agonize over their missing kin.

Had the manhole in which the officer fell been covered, Chesire would still be alive. According to traders around the area, the manhole has remained open for years and no effort has been made to cover it.

Chesire's colleagues and relatives are left agonizing on how long it will take before his body is recovered.

Officers at Muoroto Police Post described Chesire as a jovial and diligent officer. 

"He had served here for about three years. On the fateful night at around 10pm, he was trying to lock one of the kiosks after saving a mother and child who were trapped by floods when he stepped into a manhole and was swept away," one of the officers recalled. 

Meanwhile, his family in Kampi ya Moto has been appealing to the State to put more effort to finding Chesire's body. They said he is the only son in the family.

At the spot where Chesire was swept away, there was a buzz of activity on Sunday though the manhole remains cordoned off. 

Here, most of the kiosk sit on a huge drainage system that cuts through the country bus station down to Nairobi River.

“I never knew that some shops were built on top of the drainage. What I had seen are some manholes behind wall of the bus station,” said Andre Kimani, one of the traders.

Other traders revealed that the stretch along the drainage where the kiosks stand were allocated to powerful individuals.

“People who own some of the shops around the bus station and even on riparian land are known. Some of them are senior politicians who used their powers to get approvals from City Hall,” said another trader.

Chesire's death not only shook city residents but also exposed the county’s underbelly in terms of maintaining or expanding key infrastructure.

That is not the only dangerous manhole in the city; there are several others in the city centre and residential areas. Many manholes are not covered and the concerned authorities have not bothered to take action.

A spot check by The Standard around many estates in Nairobi not only paints a poor state of the drainage system but reveals gaping manholes in posh estates and busy locations where those in power pass every day

There is a deep manhole not far from Parliament Buildings and City Hall, where the depth of its chambers is about seven feet. A section of the manhole caved in, probably due to the weight of cars that park on top of it, leaving it exposed.

Manholes provide access to underground public utilities such as water, sewers, telephone and electricity cables. Workers need to access them periodically to perform inspections, repairs and maintenance. 

But in the capital city, some of them have been left uncovered as a result of wear and tear or being vandalised. This by far is the most common problem because of a ready market for scrap metal.

The gaping holes pose dangers to road users, children and even animals. And during the rainy season, some of these open manholes collect water to the brim making them invisible deathtraps.

Nairobi County Disaster Management Chief Officer Brawel Simiyu blames vandalism for the sad state of affairs. 

“It is not by design that the manholes are open. It happens because of vandalism carried out by people looking to make quick proceeds from selling the metallic covers,” he said, adding that there has been collaboration between them and police to curb theft of manhole covers. 

His counterpart at Mobility and Works Engineer Michael Tirop also accuses scrap metal dealers of contributing to the destruction of critical infrastructure in the city. 

“It is a challenge but we usually replace them to avoid disasters. There was a time we switched to a composite-like material but the crooks discovered that they are reinforced using metallic materials and that's why they steal them.

“We are still procuring the covers though. But the culprits destroy the whole infrastructure like roads signage and even security lights. That is why we usually partner with police,” said Mr Tirop.

According to Tirop, the depth of the manholes depend on the type of utility underneath.  

Scrap Metal Council chairperson Francis Mugo, however, said they have not received any communication from county officials over theft of manhole covers. 

“Most of our members deal in metals and I cannot deny or confirm the claims. But as for now, we have not received any complaints,” Mr Mugo said. 

In early 2022, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned scrap metal trade in the country owing to increased vandalism of key installations. 

Some of the targeted installations included transformers, guard rails and utility infrastructure, among others, which he described as economic sabotage. 

But only months later, the ban was lifted with a caveat that only licensed traders would be allowed back to the scrap metal trade.

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