Waste management is proving a hard nut to crack for most county governments, putting to question the devolved units’ abilities to manage the environment. According to The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution, safe disposal of solid and sewer waste management rests entirely with the county governments. But is not the case in many regions, including Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega counties, where heaps of garbage are common even in the central business districts.
The consequences of accumulated waste are a ticking time bomb, experts warn. Matters have been aggravated by the ever growing population in urban and peri-urban areas, which continue to generate huge amounts of waste. The Council of Governors is worried that the crisis is slowly getting out of hand and the country risks falling short of the environmental sustainability and sanitation target under the Sustainable Development Goals.
“The menace of growing waste matter, particularly solid waste in urban areas, is worrying both the governors and the national government because the environment is the indicator of a people’s health,” said Mr Benjamin Cheboi, the Baringo governor and chairman of the Water and Forestry Committee that also handles the environment and pollution matters in the council of governors.
Mr Anthony Saisi, an environmentalist and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director in Kisumu County, said the problem requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders, adding that counties should invest more in waste management and engage in public private partnership to meet the high costs involved.
“The beauty in all this mess is that counties have acknowledged that there is a problem. Henceforth, they should work with all parties by enacting the necessary laws and seeking best practices and technologies to end the menace,” he said.
Kisumu’s Kachok Dumpsite, situated within the central business district, is not only an eyesore, but also a stumbling block to a number of investments. Entrepreneurs say building houses on plots neighbouring the dumpsite, which has been there since the ’70s, is impossible. The garbage also attracts birds, which poses a real danger to planes fling in and out of Kisumu.
Also affected is the adjacent multibillion Moi Stadium; Football Kenya Federation has threatened to ban its use if the filth is not removed. Kisumu County Governor Jack Ranguma says the county’s proposal to have garbage recycling plants set up hit a snag after the communities approached to lease, sell or cede land for the purpose refused to do so.
The governor said lack of information on the safety, usability and business opportunities that come from waste has greatly hindered the relocation of the town’s dumpsite. He acknowledged that the county’s hands are tied until a suitable location is found.
“We are even looking at centralising waste management in western Kenya counties. That way, we can pool resources and attract investors who can turn waste into wealth,” Mr Ranguma said. He added that feasibility studies on the amount of energy that can be generated from the waste at the Kachok Dumpsite were almost complete.
Kisii County, whose dumpsite is situated close to a river and a few metres behind Kisii Level Six Hospital, is facing a similar problem. The residents of Etora (Gucha) and Bonchari, which had been identified as alternative dumpsites, took to the streets to show their displeasure at the plan, saying it would expose them to health hazards.
Meanwhile, the hospital is also putting pressure on the county government to relocate the dumpsite, which is unhealthy for the patients and its workers, and could soon lose it patients should the facility be declared unsafe.
“A hospital environment should be kept as clean as possible. The fact that Kisii serves one of the largest populations in the county should make this appeal more urgent,” said the hospital’s environmental officer, Jonson Makokha.
Governor James Ongwae acknowledged that solid waste management was one of the town’s biggest challenges, adding that their efforts to find a lasting solution were being hampered by politics. “In the meantime, we are using waste disposal mechanisms like incineration, but it cannot be an end in itself. We are working at long-term measures to address solid waste disposal,” Mr Ongwae said.
Mr Samson Bokea, the Nema director in Kisii, said the idea of refilling abandoned quarries at Etora was good since it could later be reclaimed and trees planted on it.
Kericho County is also looking for land to relocate its dumpsite, which is situated behind the Tengecha Group of schools and Kapkatet Hospital, among other institutions. Governor Paul Chepkwony said owing to its close proximity to a number of academic institutions and complaints by locals, they would buy land in Bureti Constituency. A 15-member committee chaired by Mr Wesley Cheruiyot, a resident, is looking for suitable land.
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“Following the public’s participation in discussions on relocating the Kapkatet dumpsite, we agreed to buy land elsewhere. In the meantime, we will use the current dumpsite until we find alternative land,” he said.
Prof Chepkwony further said his government would use compressing technology to ensure that garbage in the dumpsite cannot be washed away by rainwater into water sources, as has been happening.
In Kakamega and Sondu Market in Kericho, traders recently refused to pay taxes citing poor sanitation. Kakamega Market Traders’ Group Chairman Benard Oundo said an outbreak of cholera and other diseases was looming as the market lacked toilets while sewage was flowing in the open after the pipes were damaged. He said the contractor hired by the county government had failed to collect garbage at Masingo Market for months.
Similarly, Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga said the county lacked land for central waste disposal. “We might have to buy land for the purpose. Our problem is less serious since the level of waste generated is still low, but we still need to prevent a time bomb,” said Governor Rasanga.
Homa Bay County has an outdated sewerage system which lets an overflow of untreated sewage flow into Lake Victoria, on which locals depend for domestic use.
Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero attributed the garbage problem to a sharp increase in the city’s population, adding that the filling up of the Dandora Dumpsite had led to people disposing of waste in undesignated areas.
Scientists, led by Prof Shem Wandiga of the University of Nairobi, have warned that the Dandora Dumpsite had reached its 14-year maximum shelf life and had become a major health threat to residents instead.
But plans to have an alternative dumpsite in Ruai were put on hold after experts warned that the proposed site, which is on the flight path of planes using the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, would attract birds, posing a danger to aircraft.
Lack of laws
The governors attributed the problem to lack of laws for sustainable management of waste, insufficient funding and lack of alternative land to relocate dumpsites.
“Lack of funds and land to relocate the dumpsites are our major problems. We also lack proper laws, which the counties are now coming up with. Different regions need to make specific laws and strategies to address their unique challenges,” said Mr Cheboi.
Experts recommend a central dumping site to reduce the cost of subsequent interventions. However, finding alternative sites has become a political hot potato for many governors. Afraid that they might become unpopular if they do the right thing, they have resorted to using popular, even if unworkable, methods.
National Land Commission Chairman Mohammed Swazuri, says that most public land, included that set aside for cemeteries, has been grabbed by individuals, which is why counties are suffering. He said although the counties should seek the NLC’s assistance in buying public land for central dumping as required by law, only Kisii County had written to the commission.
Bomet has also written, but only seeking to resolve the controversy over whether to build a university at its dumpsite in the town.
“We have looked into the case of Kisii and there seems to be no alternative land so far. Although it’s unhealthy for them, the dumpsite might have to remain where it is until further notice,” said Mr Swazuri.
Mr Cheboi, said that with the ever-increasing population in urban centres, garbage would remain a major problem for a long time, unless far-reaching measures are taken. He said most people, in an attempt to get rid of overflowing waste, resort to burning plastic, which produces fumes that are harmful to human beings and the environment.
He said various counties were developing strategies for safe disposal of specific waste, for instance non-biodegradable wastes like polythene and glass.
“The counties are considering the use of public private partnership so that investors can use the massive waste to generate other useful materials since we do not have enough money to undertake such projects,” said Mr Cheboi.
Some of the suggested methods are using waste to generate power and the bio-degradable ones to make manure.
“One simple way is to segregate the waste at source so that the biodegradable ones and those that don’t decompose are disposed of separately. Not everything should end up at the dumpsite,” said Mr Saisi. This not only ensures environmentally friendly waste disposal, but also puts it to good economic use. However, it requires resources that most counties do not have.
In 2015, Nairobi County partnered with Mezzo Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company, to put up a waste recycling plant at the Dandora Dumpsite. The company, which has been developing a solid waste recycling management framework, is educating local staff on the techniques.
Nairobi, Dr Kidero said, generates about 2,400 tonnes of solid waste per day, of which only 30 per cent is effectively disposed of. “The city has a projected population of more than five million by the year 2030, up from the 3 million recorded during the 2009 census. Every person produces half a kilogramme of solid waste in a day,” the governor said.
However, the county chiefs say the problems with waste management can be traced back to the defunct local authorities which, according to a 2012 Nema report, were described as financially, technically and institutionally weak and unable to manage waste. In 2012, mayors asked the government to find a lasting solution to garbage collection before the situation got out of hand.
Former Kisumu mayor Sam Okello asked the government to implement a national policy to deal with solid waste in all the counties, adding that they did not have the capacity to manage waste. “We should have a national policy on solid waste management because this is one of the biggest challenges facing local authorities in Kenya today and it will haunt county governments unless the problem is urgently addressed,” said Mr Okello.
But the then Nema director for compliance and enforcement, Mr Malwa Langwen, said a blanket policy for the management of garbage in all the counties was not practical.
“The problem of solid waste disposal is area-specific and we cannot have a blanket policy for the disposal of waste,” Mr Langwen said. “We have general guidelines stating how disposal of waste should be done.”
He said many councils did not plan well for the delivery of municipal services. “We have asked the local authorities to find and allocate land for setting up landfills to bury some of the waste that accumulates from their municipalities but most of them have not done this.”
Currently, more than a third of the country’s population lives in urban areas. The government estimates that by 2030, half the population will be living in towns. This is expected to increase amount of waste generated.
According to the Nema report, unsustainable production and consumption have resulted in a considerable increase in both the quantity and variety of waste generated.
Improper disposal of human waste is a problem in slums, areas where people prefer to buy food instead of paying for the use of a toilet use. But the problem has now spread to unlikely town centres.
In Kisumu, the accelerated growth of the water hyacinth has partly been attributed to disposal of liquid and solid municipal waste in rivers that drain into the lake.