By Oluoch Japheth Ogola and Fr Daniel Moschetti, mccj
The Dandora Municipal Dump Site, the only dump site in Nairobi is located 8 km away from Nairobi?s Central Business District. It is adjacent to Korogocho slums, the fourth largest slum in Nairobi with a population of about 120,000 inhabitants. The dumpsite has been in place for over thirty years, a direct contravention of international environmental laws, which require that dumpsites be closed down after ten to fifteen years of usage. The site also affects Dandora, Kariobangi and Baba Dogo residents with a total population of about 900,000 inhabitants. In fact, the over thirty acres of solid waste is encroaching into the residential houses in Dandora.
The City Council of Nairobi established the dumpsite in the mid 1970s over a disused quarry in the then sparsely populated outskirts of Nairobi. The area is now home to about one million people. The intention was then to fill up the quarry but it has now developed into one of the greatest humanitarian nightmares in Nairobi?s history particularly to the residents of Korogocho, Kariobangi, Dandora and the neighbourhoods.
Business interests in dumpsite
All garbage from Nairobi?s industries, hotels, restaurant, airport, and residential areas is dumped here. Private cartels control business at the dumpsite. The site is also a politically sensitive area. Politicians are allegedly involved in the dump site affairs, owning some of the lorries which dump garbage at the site. The dumpsite is believed to be a multimillion industry and the local politicians are believed to be highly involved in maintaining the status quo while taking different positions over the relocation of the dumpsite depending on which position is convenient to them at a particular time in point.
The Dandora dumpsite has a number of co-operatives of youth and women which have come up to sort and recycle some of this waste. These cartels hire them to sort out and recycle wastes from industries and residential estates in Nairobi. Due to hard economic times which has spawned a culture of survival, these people earn between Ksh 50-150 (USD 0.75-2.3) a day. They work under harsh conditions without any protective clothing. Their employers do not cover them when they get sick. Getting sick here is as common as a hobby and this is manifested in the high death rate of those working at the dumpsite.
Danger to public health
Dandora Dumpsite is home to all kinds of wastes. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report released in October 2007 found out that industrial wastes such as fall-offs, used chemicals, raw materials, expired products and substandard goods are offloaded at the dumpsite. The report titled ?Environmental Pollution and Impacts On Public Health, The impact of the Dandora Dumping Site in Nairobi, Kenya?[i] further reveals that agricultural wastes such as fungicides and herbicides and hospital waste including packaging materials, and containers, used syringes and other sharp, biological waste and pharmaceuticals are all dumped at the site.
The pilot study has linked environmental pollution to public health. Soil samples analyzed from locations adjacent to and within the dumpsite show high levels of heavy metals emanating from the site, in particular lead, mercury, cadmium, copper and chromium. At the same time, a medical evaluation of the children and adolescents living and schooling near the dumpsite indicates a high incidence of diseases that are associated with high exposure levels to these metal pollutants. For example, about 50% of children examined who live and school near the dumpsite had respiratory ailments and blood lead levels equal to or exceeding internationally accepted toxic levels (10ug/dl of blood) while 30% had size and staining abnormalities of their red blood cells, confirming high exposure to heavy metal poisoning.
In 1998, the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) observed that the site poses a serious air pollution problem, which affects the health of human beings and scavenger animals. This is also evident in the huge amounts of smoke emanating from the dumpsite risking the lives of those working and living around. This particularly affects pupils from the neighbouring schools. A long delay in waste collection generates a foul smelling liquid called leachate, which is considered a high water polluter.
Children exploited as labourers on and consumers of garbage
The dumpsite equally poses serious social and political threats. Being an open space the dumpsite encourages and attracts many children to turn to street life since they scavenge for items from the dump site which they sell. Schools such as St John Informal School in Korogocho have reported cases of pupils escaping from school to work at the dump site. Due to high poverty levels in Korogocho slums and its neighbouring settlements, some parents encourage their children to go to ?Mukuru? as the dumpsite is popularly known to fend for themselves and also support the family. While some critics will defend this habit, it is a disastrous short term solution to a larger, complex and longer social and economic problem.
Groups of people particularly street boys and those working at the dumpsite select items and food stuffs dumped by tens of lorries and sell them back to slum residents at prices lower than retail rates. The dumpsite area has more than twenty primary schools and a number of secondary schools. A visit in each of the schools reveals that a lot of the waste foodstuff such as sweets and chocolate from the dumpsite are sold at the gates of these schools. Hygiene is not observed and sometimes the food is expired. This puts at risk the lives of many children. One does not want to imagine what would happen if the foodstuffs are contaminated! An entire generation could be in danger.
The health hazards associated with the Dandora dumpsite according the UNEP report includes skin disorders, respiratory abnormalities, abdominal and intestinal problems central nervous system and blood disorders. Diseases such as malaria, chicken pox, lung cancer, septic wounds and genital abnormalities are more prevalent among the people living around the dumpsite. The UNEP report further reveals.
Danger to environment
The Nairobi River also passes besides the dumpsite aggravating the situation. Some of the waste ends up in the river, extending suffering to thousands of people. Street children bathe in the river while residents also plant vegetables along the river bed. The UNEP report reveals the existence of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and copper and some organic pollutants such as aldrin, dieldrin and carbonates. People are exposed to these chemicals through consumption of the vegetables and other risky behaviours. In the absence of sewerage services, locals who use drums to drain the toilets pour the human waste into the river, worsening the situation. With the presence of a forty meter deep abandoned quarry separating the river from the dumpsite, the Dandora Dumping Site is a mystery of a triple tragedy.
The site poses a serious health hazard to those working in and around the area. Since burning is widely used to reduce the amount of waste, the site is a major source of dioxins, furans, lead and cadmium, elements which have been scientifically proved to be toxic to both humans and the environment.
Safe-haven for criminals
Furthermore, the site provides safe haven to gun trotting criminals who operate from the site, using it as a hiding place and crime strategising point. Murder victims are rumoured to have been buried at the site while dangerous cults and groups also operate from the site. Pathways connecting the different estates of the area such as Dandora, Lucky Summer and Korogocho pass through the dumpsite and these paths are no go zones in the evening and even during the day, with criminals robbing passers-by and disappearing into the dumpsite.
Dumpsite as source of ?employment? for the local
The site has caused a dependency culture where those who benefit from it believe that their livelihoods entirely depend on the site and they lack any alternatives. Some critics of the relocation allege that it would render those working there jobless. However, the truth is that the proponents of the relocation have proposed that modern recycling facilities be put in place to ensure that about 80 percent of the waste is recycled and to employ more young people of the area. Further, it has asked the City Council of Nairobi to decentralise waste management and involve all the youths currently working in cooperatives around the city and at the dumping site in sorting and recycling at improved terms of reference.
Action for positive change
What options then do we have for the Dandora Dumpsite? The situation of the dumpsite cannot be allowed to worsen but it has to be fenced and closed. Various stakeholders must come up with alternatives which will address both the environmental and economic effects of the dumpsite. To be able to solve this problem, the stakeholders must be motivated by the need to save the majority poor whose lives are at risk. This is a big battle which can only be won if all of us come on board with clean hands. In bringing real change and transformation in our area, individuals and groups within the community must selflessly work towards harvesting the community and not individual fruits. We must be ready to sacrifice our own individual aspirations for the sake of public good.
If well managed, the site and garbage collection in the city is capable of creating up to five thousand jobs, according to an Italian waste management company, which was temporarily contracted to manage waste at the dumpsite.[ii] Experts agree that over 80% of the waste in Nairobi can be recycled, creating more jobs directly and indirectly to thousands of residents.
Social justice as tool for strengthening inter-religious harmony
It is due to the situation of these exploited workers and the confirmed health risks that religious communities in Kariobangi, Dandora and Korogocho, meeting under the banner ?Inter-religious committee Against Dandora Dumpsite? in conjunction with national human rights institutions, set up a campaign in 2005 for the relocation of the dumpsite. The pressure group cites serious legal, economic and human rights issues informing their opposition for the continued existence of the dumpsite in Dandora.
The dumpsite experience is a lesson to educate our people to be more concerned about their environment and act to improve it. Many are the times we are tempted to be spectators as others struggle for our rights. We must be participants in the change process. Advocacy and the struggle for a people?s liberation must be spearheaded by the people themselves. The society equally needs to be endowed with adequate environmental etiquette. We should ensure that our own little neighbourhoods are very clean. Other stakeholders therefore need to come up with suggestions which can help us surmount this danger of the dumpsite.
The Dandora inter-religious committee on its part has come with a number of proposals as a way forward. The committee has asked that The Dandora dump site be closed immediately and the area developed into a historical park where communities around can relax and celebrate their struggles. According to environmentalists, the dumpsite area cannot be developed into residential areas for about 15 years. The pressure group has further asked the Ministry of Local Government to decentralise waste management to eight different zones and put up waste sorting and recycling plants to ensure that over 80% of the waste is recycled. The future dumpsite would then be fenced and ensure that only the wastes which cannot be recycled are dumped there and necessary public health precautions are taken to minimise any human suffering.
Those who currently work at the dumpsite are experts in their field and the committee has called on the government and any waste management companies which the government may contract to ensure that they are absorbed and paid acceptable wages and salaries. Youth Environment Groups will also be involved in collecting, sorting and recycling the waste. The committee promises to stand for the rights of those working in the dumpsite to ensure that none of them is declared redundant by any future development plans for the dumpsite.
The committee has also asked the government to develop recreation and health facilities around the dump site to benefit those who are working there and the neighbourhoods. To enable cooperatives working in the dumpsite to improve on their work, the government, any contracted companies and non-governmental organisations have also been asked to set up microfinance organisations to extend loans to this organisation. The cooperatives will be offered relevant training to enhance their management of the loans.
The Dandora Dumping Site problem is a real human rights issue. When about a million people?s lives are put at risk, especially when the people in question are already poor and impoverished, it is a great injustice and a social -economic apartheid to let the poor live in the rubbish pit, literally, while the wealthier suburbs continue to fill the pit with their garbage. All the government ministries concerned, the City Council of Nairobi and all human beings who believe on the welfare of humanity must address this problem once and for all.
For more information contact the writers:
Fr Daniel Moschetti, a Comboni missionary priest lives and ministers at St John Catholic Church ? Korogocho. Vice-Provincial of the Comboni Missionaries in Kenya. Coordinator of Kutoka/Exodus: a Network of Catholic Parishes working in slums (informal settlements) of Nairobi. He can be contacted on +254 733 702 972 or email
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