By Gift Briton

President William Ruto launched the new Nairobi River Commission mandated to spearhead activities aimed at restoring the cleanliness of waters and supporting socio-economic programs along the Nairobi river basin.

In coordination with other stakeholders such as county governments, civil society organizations, private sector actors, and other development partners, the nine-member commission will oversee the restoration, regeneration, protection and unlock the socioeconomic potential of the basin of Nairobi rivers and all water bodies including the Ngong river, Nairobi river and Mathare river.

Speaking during the launch event, President Ruto noted that the city of Nairobi has become a shameful, hazardous and unpleasant environment, adding that commitment to the integrity of the environment is a central feature of political, economic, social, and cultural life in Kenya.

President William Ruto at the event

According to him, this initiative is especially important at a time when the climate crisis is already causing temperature increases, resulting in rising sea levels, flooding, and long-lasting droughts.

“The responsible stewardship of the environmental agenda is a matter of inter-generational justice and we shall not be a generation so reckless as to pursue a scorched-earth policy in our quest for prosperity. Mountains of rotting garbage, innumerable kinds of harmful refuse dumped in rivers and streams, and dust and smog have, over time, become the defining characteristics of Nairobi in particular, and urbanization in Kenya in general,” he said.

Over the last three decades, several attempts have been made by the government to restore the river largely focusing on cleaning it up and putting up green spaces with the most promising one being under the directive of the late John Michuki, former Minister for Environment and National Resources.

However, the river retains it dark contaminated water and continues to suffer pollution risking the lives of many people along the river and downstream, with increasing urbanization and industrialization attributed to the cause of pollution.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Pamela Olet, Chair Nairobi River Commission, noted that with over 56% of the Nairobi population spread across low and middle-income settlements along the Nairobi basin, the restoration and rehabilitation process of the river shall help in curbing the pollution issue.

“It is important to reclaim the Nairobi river basin to ensure reduced cases of pollution and curbing it in the long term,” she added.

Governor of Makueni county, Mtula Kilonzo Junior also present at the event, lamented about the filthy nature of Nairobi river waters that end up in Machakos and Makueni counties.

“This water that is dark in Korogocho, is green in Machakos and Makueni. The innocent children in Machakos and Makueni are swimming and people in Makueni are farming and the food is coming to Nairobi. We are consuming poison,” he said.

From the left:  Dr. Pamela Olet, Chair of Nairobi River Commission,  Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and  Dr. Rafael Tuts during the event.

Wanjira Mathai, Regional Director World Resource Institute, noted that rivers are a very good indicator of the ecosystem health because everything we do outside the river ultimately affects the health of the river, adding that “We must arrest pollution, contamination and the destructive activities that affect the health and wellbeing of communities that live along the rivers of Nairobi and beyond. We must also center local communities adjacent to these rivers by working with them, amplifying their voices, investing in them and scaling up their innovations.”

Johnson Sakaja, Governor Nairobi County, pointed out in order to restore the rivers, it is important to first solve the problem of the sewerage system in the city, noting that most parts of the slams have no proper sewerage systems although the president noted that already Ksh. 22 billion project to solve the sewerage system in the city is underway.

Dr. Rafael Tuts, while representing the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said, “The Nairobi river provides unparalleled advantage which could be turning point towards sustainable development. The initiative will ultimately improve urban health and wellbeing, create decent jobs, enhance biodiversity and support the provision of clean water sanitation and waste management.”

According to Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with Nairobi as the environmental capital of the world where environmental diplomacy takes place cleaning up the river basin must include everyone and it has to involve private partnership, adding that we will not rest till this job is done. Our commitment is absolutely clear and we are looking forward to seeing the results of what we are starting today.”