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UN Study Finds Nairobi Dumpsite Endangers Children Living Nearby

Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is home to one of Africa's largest dumpsites. A recent United Nations study found that nearly half of the children surveyed who live near the dumpsite suffer from serious medical conditions as a result of contamination from pollutants. Yet many of these children and their families get their main source of income from that very dumpsite. Cathy Majtenyi files this report on the dilemma.

A thick, bluish-white haze hangs over the Dandora Municipal Dumping Site and blows into the nearby slums and low income neighborhoods where up to one million people live.

Njoroge Kimani is a clinical biochemist at Kenyatta Hospital and author of a UN report on the dump. "From what I was able to collect from the people on the ground, the situation is actually very, very serious, because the residents themselves, they told, me, 'We are holding funerals every day because of this dumping site'."

Some 2,000 tons of garbage, including wood with lead-base paint, are deposited into the 12 hectare site each day.

The United Nations Environment Program study found that the lead in the blood of one half of 328 children tested exceeds international standards. Many suffer from chronic bronchitis, asthma, anemia, skin infections and other diseases.

Children and adults are exposed to toxins in the Nairobi River, which flows near the dump. Lead, mercury, cadmium and other pollutants are also found in nearby soil and the ever-present smokey haze.

To address the problem, City Council recently proposed moving the dump to an isolated location outside of Nairobi, called Ruai.

City councilor Benjamin Njenga says the new dump should be in place by next July. "We know people have really suffered, and that's why we have taken that bold move of seeking for strategic partners so that we can relocate the dumpsite from here to Ruai."

But to the 120,000 people crammed into the crowded neighborhood of Korogocho, who earn on average less than one dollar a day, the dump is a source of income. People sift through through the garbage and sell what they can. Some people even eat from the dump.

Eighteen-year-old David Komisona says he earns three to four dollars per day selling garbage. "A kilogram of papers is three shillings; carton is three shillings also. But there are those who buy paper and carton at five shillings (per kilo)."

Community members and activists say relocating the dump will only transfer the problems to others and deprive Korogocho and other residents of their livelihoods.

The United Nations Environment Program proposes reducing pollution while still providing economic opportunities for the residents. Opportunities could include waste separation, incineration, and the production and sale of methane gas.