Written by Peter Mwashi Litonde
Peter Mwashi Litonde is a proponent of social justice, social inclusion and equity. He is a community Development expert serving the vulnerable grassroots communities in Kenya. Born and raised in the slums of Korogocho, which is the 3rd largest slum in Kenya. Peter uses participatory development approaches such as drama and art to organize, mobilize and engage community members especially children in addressing issues affecting them and influence social change. Peter is a passionate writer gifted in creative writing and uses his writings to raise awareness and provoke the society to reflect, deliberate and inspire change. In his 18 years’ experience in community work he has initiated and been part of different community based initiatives in and outside his community on children issues, youth development, community capacity building, media projects, environmental justice and Human Rights programs. Peter is an enthusiast of children & youth mentorship as a tool to protect and inspire a future.
One million is the number of lives on the periphery of Kenya’s Nairobi capital subjected to toxic fumes from the deadly Dandora dumpsite. One million on a death-row.
In 2018 a group of children in Korogocho undertook an art and crafts project to advocate and raise awareness
The Dandora dumpsite is the largest in Eastern Africa. Located just about 8km from the City centre and 15km from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
headquarters. The dumpsite is about 30 acres of landfill full of trash. It was established in 1975 through the support of the World Bank by then serving a small population of about 0.5 million people sparsely populated in Nairobi. The idea was to fill up a quarry on location.
Heading to five decades later, the dumpsite which was declared full in 2001, continues to receive more than 2000 metric tonnes of solid waste every day.
The waste here includes food waste, plastic, rubber, glass, industrial and clinical waste including syringes. It all comes from the over 5 million population in Nairobi. With minimal informal recycling happening at the site much of it is burnt through methane fires and other regular burnings that shrink the volumes. Toxic fumes engulfed in clouds of smoke blowing to the residential communities including the nearby Korogocho slums is a common image that the residents have witnessed endlessly for 45 years and counting. The Dandora dumpsite juxtaposes the ugly gap between the rich and the poor in Kenya.
This a country where 60% of its population are impoverished and subjected to harsh conditions such as scavenging from the dumped trash. It frames the injustices forced on people in terms of economic, social, health and sadly environmental inequalities. Lack of proper planning, inadequate solid waste management and lack of political will have escalated the problem which amounts to violation of fundamental Human Rights of the people. A study by UNEP in 2007 shows that 50% of the 328 children sampled from the communities around the dumpsite, exhibited presence of heavy metals in their blood including lead which was way beyond the World Health Organization’s acceptable levels. The samples also confirmed respiratory diseases such as Asthma and chronic bronchitis being common among the population around.
Noxious chemicals from the waste run into the nearby Nairobi river causing a health risk to those using the water down the stream. The waters of the Nairobi river flow into the Indian ocean and hence to the global community. The soil contamination and vegetation poisoning in the land at the dumpsite sadly maybe a long-term damage.
It is not unusual for children in the nearby schools to study only a half day due to the increased smoke blurring their vision to the blackboard and a continuous cough during the lessons hence a hindrance to their academic dream, a future dimmed.
About 1500 people come to the dumpsite every day to scavenge for food and collecting recyclables from the trash. Here people compete with pigs, cows, goats and marabou storks for a daily bread. They do so without any protective gear, exposing them to more harm. The farmers who feed these livestock at the dumpsite are oblivious to the toxic contamination of the meat which ends up in different butcheries and eateries throughout the larger Nairobi area.
There have been past efforts by various institutions within and outside the community to lobby and agitate for change. However, these efforts have been futile due to corruption as a result of economic and political interests of the dumpsite. There are allegations of politicians using the dumpsite to syphon money from the county by awarding themselves tenders for garbage collection. The dumpsite also harbors criminal gangs who control the dumping and collection of recyclables at the site. This criminal network continues to silence the residents who are overcome by fear to confront the issue and demand for better. A people silenced even when they can’t breathe.
In 2018 a group of children in Korogocho undertook an art and crafts project to advocate and raise awareness about the problem. They did so by recycling waste to make crafts which they then exhibited in the community and at the dumpsite. This advocacy themed ‘My Environment My life’ ran on the hashtag ‘Stop-dumping-death-on-us’ in line with many efforts that helped to stop the illegal extension of the dumpsite.
Indeed, here is a clarion call to unmask and confront environmental injustices subjected to the people by the Dandora dumpsite and save a future chocked by the pollutants. This place which I call home and its people should also count as Kenyans, deserving a better, cleaner, safer and healthier environment.
Meanwhile time is ticking, a gasp of air full of toxic. Every inhale equals the risk of cutting short a life, but with every exhale is hope that it shall be better someday and that the people around the Dandora dumpsite will breathe again.