Rains Expose How Blighted Nairobi Drainage System

The rains are here, and how deserving is the proud city of Nairobi of this saying? A popular saying goes, ‘One day the wind will blow and the anus of the hen shall be exposed.’ Despite being a city-county boasting of unrivaled infrastructure development in East and Central Africa, the rains have exposed its poor drainage system, and improper property development on riparian land, rendering major roads impassable, damage to property, and loss of life.

“I have directed the Green Nairobi to form and deploy 170 Green Army personnel to unclog and unblock drainages in hot spot areas. This will complement the normal activities of the rest of the green army,” Governor Johnson Sakaja said during a visit to Viwandani Ward, one of the areas hit by the floods earlier this week.

However, this is a Band-Aid on an otherwise fractured system. According to City Hall records, the city’s drainage was originally designed to serve less than 500,000 people, a population that has since ballooned to more than five million. The face of Nairobi is rapidly changing, and authorities seemingly ignore illegal construction, compounding the runaway problem.

Completed, some still vacant, high-rise buildings, and more under construction are a common sight in almost every neighborhood in Nairobi. Illegal construction is a problem in neighborhoods that initially restricted the developments as mentioned above like Parklands, Kilimani, Kileleshwa, and Lavington, spotlighting a blatant disregard for laws and regulations, not to mention a poorly run National Construction Authority. More often than not, the illegal developments especially on riparian lands stifle amenities by causing water shortages and snarl-ups.

In a video widely shared on social media, Pius Masai Mwachi, a safety, security Disaster Risk Reduction, and Disaster Risk Management expert, asked the Nairobi City governor to take more responsibility by understanding that the construction developments including the expressway, done on water paths are to be blamed for the flooded floods and snarl-ups when rains fall.

“It is important for the Nairobi County government to check the exit of the stormwater. Without knowledge of the end product, opening the roads, terraces, and drainage won’t be a solution. And the collected stormwater with no exit will cause damage and death,” the video said in part.

Stormwater in Nairobi flows to the Mathare, Ngong’ and Nairobi Rivers. However, illegal construction and in most cases lack of public participation in project development have blocked the waterways. Destruction of the ecosystem by riverside developments has also been decried by conservationists. Additionally, it is not uncommon for garbage to end up in the drainage system as a result of poor disposal.

Revamping and improvement of the drainage system to accommodate the population, requires a heavy investment, a tall order considering the government’s resource allocation. However, this may be remedied by legislation. Enforcement of building regulations and public participation need not be an afterthought. Finally, individual responsibility to ensure proper garbage disposal and property development will go a long way in addressing the drainage problem

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