How Nairobi River changed from cleanest to killer river within years

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Nairobi was once known as a “place of cool waters”, derived from the Maasai word enairobe, which literally means “a stream of cold water”.

This was probably because of the existence of a water source, Nairobi River and its tributaries, which cut through the city.

The city was a place to be, a pride to behold. Combined with the tag “City in the Sun”, the capital of Kenya stood out. But not any more.

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With Nairobi continuing to experience exponential population growth, heralded by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, Nairobi River has become dirty. It reels under the weight of trash, which now threatens its existence.

Residents once observed that they could drink, swim and catch fish in Nairobi River when young living in the capital, but that is just that — a distant memory.

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Choking with all manner of rubbish, the river is a pale shadow of its former self.

The river, which cuts through the city and meanders through highly populated informal settlement areas, is now polluted with all types of waste.

Industrial waste, chemicals and heavy metals, among other pollutants, have taken hold of the river.

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The river — which meanders through the National Museums of Kenya, Grogan, Gikomba, down to the expansive Kiambiu slum — is now, more than ever, under renewed threat from increased discharge of industrial, commercial and domestic effluent into its system.

Beneath the facade of a smooth flow lies all types of garbage, including hair salon waste, used bottles and polythene bags.

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Going downstream, in the section between the Globe Cinema flyover and the Racecourse roundabout, the same scenario is evident.

There are several makeshift structures along the banks, with a stretch occupied by motor vehicle and motorcycle garages that discharge all sorts of waste into the river.

Some of the mechanics urinate into the already dirty water, oblivious of the danger they are posing to those who use the water.

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“I know the water I am using is dirty but I cannot dip into my little profit to buy water to clean these shoes as that will put me to a disadvantage,” a trader once said.

Human waste from several public toilets and garbage disposal centres along the river have choked the river to a point where it can barely flow.

At the River Ngong Bridge, there are huge piles of human waste, discarded polythene bags and all sorts of household garbage.

“You can see for yourself the amount of garbage here. The once flowing river is now a stale reminder of what it used to be. We used to be served by this river but it is now slowly and painfully dying right before our eyes,” said Ms Roseline Asena, the chairperson of a residents association in informal settlements.

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The biggest polluters of the rivers in Nairobi include a broken sewer system in many parts of the city, big factories that release their waste into the water bodies and settlements with no toilets.

The lack of a proper sewer system has led to the spewing of human effluent into the river. In the case where no sewer system exists, as in most informal settlements, the dwellers discharge their waste directly into the river.

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