A joint United Nations-Kenyan government project to transform one of the largest slums in East Africa was spotlighted Monday, as the United Nations marked its annual World Habitat Day. VOA's Catherine Maddux reports from Nairobi on the effort to improve living conditions in the city's Kibera slums, home to more than 500,000 people who live in ramshackle structures without running water or proper sanitation.
Duncan Mokua was born in Kibera about 40 years ago. He says his home measures about 10 feet by 10 feet.
"Just enough to put a bed and a few stools," Mr. Mokua says. "We have communal toilets and we purchase from water vendors, pipe water of course, but we have to boil it to avoid diseases like amoeba, typhoid. " Mr. Mokua sells charcoal to Kibera residents, making just about $1 a day.
Another resident, Millicent Adhiambo, 13, said "in one room we are eight people. My father, my mother, and two brothers and three sisters, and it's made of iron."
The numbers at Kibera are staggering. The U.N.-Habitat agency, which works to improve slum life around the world, says more than 500,000 of Nairobi's population of 2.1 million people live in 18,000 squalid structures. That is an average of more than 25 people per primitive building. Kibera is made up of 12 villages that cover more than 230,000 hectares of land in Nairobi.
But a joint U.N.-Kenyan government project is aiming to transform Kibera to greatly improve the lives of its residents.
At a ceremony attended by U.N. and Kenyan officials, including President Mwai Kibaki, the executive director of U.N.-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, described the problem.
"At the time of rapid urbanization with millions of desperate people streaming into cities and towns from the countryside looking for jobs and a better life and we all know what happening to our cities," Ms. Tibaijuka says. "The landscape of Kibera where I believe we do not have to speak for long to describe the challenge out there."
The Mayor of Nairobi, Dick Wathika also spoke, offering some hope to Kibera's desperation population. "I appeal to our development partners to join us in this initiative to bridge poverty gaps among our slum people," Mr. Wathika says. "My administration will endeavor to improve and enhance the institutional capacity to deliver services to all Nairobians."
The Kenyan land ministry says soon, perhaps beginning in December, temporary housing will be built, where one-by-one residents in Kibera's 12 villages will be moved while their slums are upgraded. They will then be resettled into new homes that will have electricity, a sewage system, water supply, and sanitation. Then the process is to be repeated for the residents of the remaining 11 villages.
Kibera's residents like Duncan Mokua are cautiously hopeful.
"I would like to believe that, but I wouldn't know if what we've been told is so true but we believe we hope it will be beautiful project," Mr. Mokua says. "We'd like to have good houses."
U.N.-Habitat says the Kenyan project is likely to cost millions of dollars, but so far only a $250,000 grant has been allocated. The Kenyan government estimates the Kenya Slum Upgrading Program, as it is formally known, will take 15 years to complete.