Kenya: Death on the River

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May 18, 2012
Mary Mwendwa

September 13th 2011, was one of the darkest mornings in Kenyan history. Sinai slum, found in Nairobi’s Industrial area lost over 100 people in a fire tragedy.

Located in the eastern part of Nairobi, Sinai slum has a Nairobi River tributary that passes nearby. Residents here build their sheet house close to the river, when it rains some of the houses on the riparian land get washed away.

Kenya Pipeline Company, responsible for oil supply in the country has a transport corridor for the petroleum products within the Sinai slum. With no proper sanitation services, the river here is full of human waste and chemical waste from the factories. National Environment Management Authority, NEMA, has been conducting a cleaning program of the river but due to increasing population among many slum dwellers the river still faces pollution.

A section of the Sinai- fire tragedy scene on Ngong River

On this jinxed day, people were scooping super petrol from a burst pipeline .With less knowledge about the high flammable condition of the oil, many celebrated it as a blessing of getting money after selling the product.

Men, women and children joined in the scramble for scooping oil.Little did they know things would take a tragic turn even before they could sell the petrol. Josephine Atieno a mother of five lost her teenage son and her husband, who both had gone to scoop the oil. She has never been able to trace their bodies. ‘Fire broke out after a man with a cigarette went to get oil from the pipe’ she sobs.scores of people died and many are still nursing serious wounds they sustained on that material day.

According to Jasper Opati, a resident at the slum for the last 20 years, ‘people here have low income levels, and whenever they see something they can get money from, never think of the danger it poses’. On that day when fire broke, some people jumped into the polluted river to put off fire on their bodies but it dint work. Many burnt to death in the river. The river got double pollution because it had remains of decomposing body parts that were not retrieved during the search exercise.

Sinai slum along Ngong river tributary

River pollution in slums is a major concern, sewers in slums are drained in rivers, all types of waste dumped in them. In Nairobi, some of the slums that are near Nairobi river are, Mathare, Kibera, Majengo ,Kwa Njenga among others. All these contributing to the pollution of a river that originates from Ngong , Dagoretti Forests and Ondiri/Kikuyu wetlands.

Professor Kenneth Mavuti, A Hydrologist and a Senior lecturer at Nairobi University attributes human encroachment on raparian land as one of the major contributing factors to river pollution. Large populations of people occupy slum with no access to water and sanitation.

The fire tragedy at Sinai fueled another tragedy of pollution in the Nairobi River Basin, although life may have gone back to normal, other related disasters loom as people still occupy slums for a survival in the name of a livelihood in the city.

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