The Green Corner article (Networking Cedara Vol. 28 No. 2, 20-26 Feb 2017) could not have come at a better time. Though this survey was done in the USA, it speaks volumes and resonates well with what is happening here in Kenya. It is now about three months since I came back to Kenya from South Africa. Many things have changed and I noted that the population in my town, Kitale, has rapidly increased. The once small agricultural town has become a boiling pot of so many activities. Businesses have grown, and unlike the past, the narrow streets are congested with people and tall buildings all over the place. Moreover, motorbikes have invested the town causing chaos and gridlocks. While some, especially the old timers romanticise and want back their old little peaceful town, others feel that it is catching up with the rest of the cities like Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Yet this has come with its own nemesis.
I have seen that the once little peaceful beautiful green agricultural town has been denuded of its heritage and beauty. The level of deforestation and encroachment on water reserves is going on unabated. Forests and farm land have been taken over by real estates to cater for the rapid population growth. Most of the fertile lands previously used for production of maize on large scale are being sold in small portions to property developers. In place of maize and beans, now we have ‘plots for sale and houses to let.’ No wonder the precious commodity, maize, has become scarce and unaffordable to the majority poor. In the 90’s we had plenty of water catchment areas and streams. These helped us a lot when the municipality could not provide residents with water for months. It is sad that most of the streams have dried and the catchment areas encroached.
There is filth all over the place from the market to the townships/estates. Solid waste, especially plastic bags have become an eye sore. It is all over the place and it appears that the authorities have no waste management policy or structures. Residents dispose garbage all over since there are no designated collection points. The environment is inundated with plastics bags that have taken the place of green grass and flowers. The level of air pollution is high as people burn plastics in their backyards and on the roadsides. It appears that people have become inured to this pollution.
The narrative is the same in other towns and cities in Kenya. Here in Nairobi where I am currently, the rate of plastic pollution is very high. There are plenty of illegal small garbage collection points beside narrow roads in the townships. People dump daily, and sometimes roads become unpassable due to the mountain of garbage, ninety percent of which are plastics. Drainage systems are full of plastic bags and bottles. It is very irritating that each time there is a road construction or maintenance, much of what comes underneath are plastic bags and bottles that show no sign of decomposition.
For some time, I have tried to understand this phenomenon on plastic waste. I have come to a conclusion that it will not be an easy way to win. It is a fact that most Kenyans find plastics indispensable. They carry them from home to work and work to home. They get them easily from the stores and the streets. Indeed, notwithstanding their effects to the environment, plastics appear a friend more than a foe to Kenyans from all walks of life.
Consider the lifestyle of most households in slums or townships. They buy items packed in plastic bags daily. For instance, small quantities of sugar, tea leaves, milk, chapati, mandazi, cooked beans or githeri, rice, chopped cabbages or Sukuma wiki, fruits, cooking fat, meat, chips ( French Fries), samosas, roasted/boiled maize, roasted/boiled sweet potatoes or yams, etc . On average we can estimate that each household receives about 10 plastic bags per day.In a month is 300 and in a year it is about 3600. All these waste either end up being dumped besides roads, walls, under trees, in nearby rivers or streams or drainage systems that serve the residential areas. For areas that garbage is collected once in a while, in case of delays, fire becomes the best option. A physical visit to one of the slums is enough evidence of this.
By Robert Kinena Ndung’u, MCCJ