Where Sewage Serves as a Boundary: Sanitation and Social Struggles in Gatina Ward, Dagotretti North
Author: Mwongelu Kamencu
Newsletter: Dagoretti News
Raw sewage snakes its way out of the informal settlement to flow under the narrow dusty road then to come out from under the road, separating the road from a wall which in turn separates the two neighbourhoods. The wall is a continuum of stone barriers of different heights, stretching out for more than a kilometer. The tops of the different sections of the wall are “decorated” by different material -barbed wire, live wire and broken bottles. But whereas the wall would seem effective from keeping people out of the gated community, the raw sewage littered with garbage serves as an additional barrier. “You would first have to get past the sewage before you could think of climbing our wall. Even if you get past those, you still have our “decorations” to contend with,” the sight of the artificial boundary communicates.
We are at the border area of two neighbourhoods which stand in stark contrast to each other. Lavington, well known for its high-end status, is the fenced off neighbourhood which lies in Kileleshwa Ward. The lesser known Fahyeh, lies in Gatina Ward, is an informal settlement which suffers infrastructural and political neglect. The raw sewage exposed to the residents of the area is a clear manifestation of this. My two friends, *Brayo and *Gilli explain the indignities of everyday life that the residents of the area suffer.
“Unaona hii kuna pipe zimetoka huku zinaingia kwa hii sewer,” Brayo says pointing towards Lavington explaining where pipes from the high-end neighbourhood direct their waste while Fahyeh residents have no sewer to speak of. “Juu ka kungekuwa na Sewer line, hii raw si ingekuwa inapitia hapo mahali pamefungwa? Lakini si unaona raw inapita wapi? ” He makes his case in Sheng explaining that the raw sewage would not have been visible if there were a Sewer line. He does this as he points at the stream of raw sewage flowing in Fahyeh. Shocking as this may be, one would be mistaken to think that the sanitation problems of Fahyeh residents stop there.
A few thin pipes come into contact with the section of the stream of raw sewage. Brayo explains that the pipes supply water to the residents of Fahyeh. I am dumbstruck. Scientific processes such as osmosis and diffusion that I learnt in high school come into mind. Obviously some molecules of raw sewage seep into the pipes which supply water to residents of Fahyeh. This piped water will later be used cooking, bathing and washing in the households in the area. How can a county government allow this? To add insult to injury, the pipes are ensconced between the sewage that flows and latrines which the residents of Fahyeh use. Again, shocking as this may be, one would be mistaken to think that the sanitation problems of Fahyeh residents stop there!
We keep walking along the dusty road. On our left, where the ‘great wall of lavington’ lies, the flow of the sewage is somewhat disturbed by litter that floats on top of it. Two children, a boy and a girl are standing next on the banks of the sewage-stream which is part of the dusty road. Gilli labels a section of the wall which looks ten feet tall the “Berlin Wall.” I ask Brayo about the children and the health hazard that they are exposed to.
“Ni Immune. Body zao ziko immune. Nakwambia ni most high. Vitu ka malaria, cholera, typhoid haziwapatangi,” he protests with resignation. He further explains the gravity of the situation and how the two children are merely a small representation of many more at risk. “Sasa leo ni Thursday but ungekuwa Sunday ama Saturday traffic ya watu hivi,” he gestures while banging the palm of his hands against the side of his fist, a gesture that signifies the multitude of people who pass through the place during the weekend as opposed to weekdays – it’s a Thursday. Brayo explains that there many more children in the area on those days and that many of them draw raw sewage and play with it, pouring it around the area. As I stare at the children who are standing against the backdrop of the “Berlin wall” alongside the raw sewage and litter, my imagination strays to one of the worst possible scenarios that the kids and residents of the place would face, the rainy season. I ask Brayo what happens then.
“Flooding, flooding mbaya. Alafu si inakata mtaro. Inakuwa mahali huwezipita. Flooding mbaya sana. Inakuwanga crazy,” he explains describing how impassable the road gets because of the sewage that floods the path aided by rain water. For passersby, they only have to contend with the inconvenience of getting past the road. But what of the residents of the area whose houses are feet away from the road?
Given the health risks in the area, it would be logical to have a health facility. There is none in sight. Indeed, as Brayo argues, the children of this area live by their artificially hardened immune systems and by the grace of God. This, however, does not mean that the residents of the area should continue living in such squalor. Brayo further elaborates “But ni mbaya, ni mbaya kabisa. Umedegrade human being ile design si human ni kitu ingine yaani, unajua.” The sordid conditions under which these residents live are undignifying. People shouldn’t live like this. What has the political leadership of the area done about this?
As far as Brayo is concerned, Gatina’s elected Ward representative does not have the clout to lobby against the residents’ association from the adjoining neighbourhood whose members are “powerful people.” Although the area MP may have clout, he argues, he can only go so far against the influential members of the residential association.
The fourth schedule of the Kenya Constitution outlines the roles of county governments, one of which includes sanitation as a remit of the county government. The raw sewage in Fahyeh is a clear manifestation of neglect and willful dereliction of duty. Residents of Fahyeh in Gatina Ward deserve better from the Nairobi County Government. Their plight deserves the attention of the County Government. Bereft of sewerage facilities, the inhabitants of Fahyeh have been subjected to an undignifying existence and are exposed to a grave health risk. The Nairobi County Government needs to step in to salvage the situation regardless of whether the area’s political leadership has been held hostage by influential individuals.