A Walk Through the “Green City in the Sun.” A Kenyan Perspective

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By Moses Aboka

Nairobi is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. It is the home to many international corporations and organization such as the United Nations Environmental Program and the United Nations’ Africa offices. It has tall, beautiful buildings and clean, fresh parks including a game park that is the only one of its kind. It is an important social center where you can meet all of Kenya’s forty-two tribes.

Getting Water is Hard

A walk through the same city paints a different picture, with shanties (slums) being home to over sixty percent of the city’s population of 3 million. Most of the 3 x 3 meter houses are inhabited by five to ten family members and have no running water. Kawangware, which has been my home for close to thirty years, is one of these slums. I cannot remember the last time that I received water from our neighborhood tap which is supposed to serve about sixty people. The shortest distance that I can travel to get water is half a kilometer.

Women and children suffer most because sometimes they have to wait, even at night, to get water which is sold for 5 Kenya Shillings (approx 0.06 USD) for twenty liters. On average, a family uses about 100 litres or 0.30 USD per day. This is a considerable amount for an urban slum family that can only spend about 1 USD per day. Therefore, most families who live close to the Nairobi River use its dirty water for washing their clothes. At times, there are lorries that supply water but these same lorries might have been carrying human waste before. Even worse, some people drink cheap, untreated borehole water. This results in water borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Using the “Flying Toilet”

As we arrive in the slum of Kibera we will be greeted by the bad smells of human waste and garbage that flow along major drainage ditches. Kibera is the world’s second largest slum, with a population close to one million. Most inhabitants do not have a toilet and therefore have to use the “flying toilet” system. They relieve themselves in plastic bags and then throw them away at night. In some places in Kibera, like in Soweto, UN Habitat has built ditch toilets and bathing facilities. These are managed by the local communities. One pays around 3 Kenya Shillings (0.04 USD) and as many as 1 600 people line up daily to use these facilities which only serve about 1 percent of Kibera’s population.

Nairobi, once known as East Africa’s “Green City in the Sun,” is no longer the “Green City.” It has become chocked with smoking cars and smoldering industries that, second by second, are damaging our environment. Sometimes I wonder how long the beauty of Nairobi will last. We share one common environment. If it is damaged, then both of us will suffer.

Moses Aboka (born 1981) was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya’s delegate to the 2010 Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, Stuttgart, Germany.


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