This image taken on April 10, 2018 shows a polluted Nairobi Dam. There are plans to reclaim it.
By Bernardine Mutanu
Mr Peter Muchina, a resident of Kibra for more than 30 years, has witnessed the Nairobi Dam change before his eyes.
The dam, a water reservoir of 98,000M³ and 88-acre “sponge” for runoff water, has lain derelict for at least 25 years, he said during an interview.
“Tourists used to come and relax in the area. We could swim and use the water for domestic purposes and we used to fish; but not anymore: water hyacinth and sewage from the slum took over,” he said.
Mr Muchina is seething as members of Parliament propose to decommission and fill it with earth in order to “save” Seefar apartments and other adjacent buildings earmarked for demolition by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA).
Though it has been highlighted as a health hazard, residents and experts are against the idea of reclaiming it.
“It is just unfortunate that authorities looked on when the dam was getting destroyed. Now that the MPs want the dam to be decommissioned, they should tell us how the land is going to help people of Kibra, or do they want to grab it?” Mr Muchina posed.
MPs cannot take such a decision without consulting the community: “We want the dam to be rehabilitated to benefit us,” he said, a view held by Mr Patson Kamoni who has lived in the area since 1974.
According to residents, unscrupulous people have taken over parts of the land around the dam.
When Nation visited, children were playing on a ground reclaimed from the dam, next to some green houses and an establishment inside the dam.
Every time there is flooding in Nairobi, lives get lost and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.
And urban planners now warn that if the proposal by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee goes through, Nairobi residents should expect more disasters from floods.
“The dam is very important for flood control and if it is reclaimed, the situation will worsen,” Dr Lawrence Esho, an urban planner and the Head of Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Technical University of Kenya, said.
In an interview, he said flooding would be more pronounced in the areas of Nairobi West, Madaraka and South C.
“In everything we do, let us leave riparian areas alone, it is unfortunate that buildings have to be demolished,” he said.
Although agreeing that demolition is a “brutal response” and that owners should be compensated, he said they cannot entirely be absolved from blame.
He said the government should first consider dealing with sewage from Kibra slums (which has caused sedimentation) and rehabilitating the dam.
“Their (MPs) logic is skewed because the city should be thinking about ways of controlling flooding and not compounding it,” he said and suggested construction of more dams up Nairobi River and her tributaries.
“Other capital cities have dams and locks and flood plains to control flooding in the cities. If the volume of water flowing in a channel is controlled, then flooding is effectively controlled,” he said, and called on politicians to give professionals a chance in urban planning and construction, but also urged authorities to rein in quacks in the industry.
Mr Patrick Analo Akivaga, an urban planning specialist working in the Nairobi City County, agrees.
The dam is a natural water shade and a floodplain for the various rivers and streams in Nairobi and a “sponge” for runoff water whenever it rains, he argues.
“Any interference can cause a more severe environmental problem. It is a threat to the water aquifers which feed to bigger rivers and water bodies passing through the Nairobi base rocks. Instead, we should reclaim it because it is also in line with the recently completed Nairobi Integrated Urban Use Master Plan (NIUPLAN) prepared with support from JICA,” he told Nation.
Mr Akivaga said reclaiming the dam is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and filling it with earth will likely to lower Nairobi’s global ranking.
“Filling it will definitely lead to flooding of the adjacent developments and cause loss of creatures living in the water as well as plants. It is going to be a threat to other water resources within the city. Nairobi should strive to reclaim the dam as a good practice,” he said.
He proposed the removal of waste and prevention of further sedimentation.
“We must draw examples from other regions in the world on how to reclaim declining water catchment areas within urban spaces.”
According to him, urban water is very important and should be conserved at all costs, “Because it provides natural functions for sustainable urban development”.
Though he is not be an expert, Mr Henry Buruti, a Kibra resident, understands too well that it is dangerous to fill the dam with soil.
“It cannot work; it is too water-logged to hold anything on the ground even when it is reclaimed. So many people have sunk in the marshland never to be found, so many have died,” he said, and claimed that it has become a criminals’ paradise where bodies of people are thrown after they are killed elsewhere.
The soggy dam is full of water hyacinth, vegetation, plastics and sewage and gives a false impression that the soil is firm.
According to Mr Peter Ojuma, three tributaries of the Nairobi River pass through the dam, a situation that stirs the question of how the dam will be filled with soil.
“We have three rivers joining here, if the channels will be filled, then the obstruction of the water may be even more catastrophic,” he said.
Other residents say the dam and the channels should be cleared of waste and rehabilitated to allow water to pass through without any obstruction which is associated with the perennial flooding in the adjacent areas.
The dam has been part of Nairobi residents, with many narrating how dilapidation of the dam over the years has affected them negatively.
“I have lived in Kibera for more than 30 years. Many years ago, the Nairobi dam was so beneficial to us: it was clean and a tourist attraction,” Mr Buruti said.
He said the dam was a source of food to numerous residents since they would go fishing. “Right now, it is a big threat to us, it is too dangerous to go there,” he said.
Mr Muchina added that the dam is smelly and a health hazard because the stagnant water has attracted mosquitos and resulted to increased cases of waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera.
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Publish date : 2019-01-03 06:51:21