A garbage crisis is in the offing in Kenya following difficulties by counties in securing land for dumping refuse and establishing waste management plants.
The problem, threatening to stall cleanup programmes in some counties, is so serious that counties are now asking the National Land Commission to intervene and help them acquire land through compulsory acquisition.
“Counties are finding it extremely difficult to obtain land to be used as landfills. Residents even go as far as inciting each other not to sell land to counties. It is extremely difficult for us,” said Mary Njogu, a county executive from Uasin Gishu in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
The crisis is compounded by the fact that the Constitution requires public participation on such matters, hence most counties have found themselves helpless, following stiff resistance from residents to the establishment of dumpsites in their neighbourhood.
“It is the reason why we want the National Land Commission to come to our aid or else counties will have a major problem in future,” said Ms Njogu.
To make matters worse, many of the defunct town and municipal councils, whose assets were inherited by the counties after the change of the Constitution, did not set aside land for either expansion of the current dumpsites or for new ones.
In Nyamira County in western Kenya, for example, despite setting aside millions of shillings and advertising twice in the media, landowners have been reluctant to sell.
“People fear having dumpsites in their neighbourhoods,” said an official of Nyamira County, who requested not to be named.
The most affected counties are those whose towns are crowded. Poor garbage disposal, mainly in urban centres, has been blamed for the spread of respiratory and waterborne diseases in crowded neighbourhoods, since mounds of garbage attract pests and scavengers.
Some industrial products and those from hospitals are also dangerous, and if not handled properly can easily expose the public to biohazards.
Currently, Nairobi County is facing a legal suit lodged by Embakasi North MP James Gakuya, who wants Nairobi’s main dumpsite — Dandora landfill — which is more than 10km from the CBD, relocated, saying it is a nuisance and a health hazard to residents.
Residents from Dandora are complaining that the dumpsite, which was initially supposed to occupy three acres, has spread to 30 acres, and that the defunct Nairobi City Council promised to take action but nothing has been done so far.
The proposal to relocate the dumpsite to Ruai, in the east of the city, also encountered problems after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) resisted the move, arguing that birds attracted by the waste would pose a safety risk to flights to and from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The county owns about 80 hectares in Ruai, which it had earmarked for a new dumpsite three years ago.
Kisumu County in western Kenya and Mombasa County on the coast are also facing the same problem as Nairobi. Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma has blamed the lack of land for the unending garbage crisis.
He said that communities approached to lease, sell or cede their land have refused to do so, making the establishment of plants to recycle garbage extremely difficult.
Conservationist James Kiyangah blames the problem on the lack of proper information on waste management among members of the public.
“The public is yet to be educated that if properly managed, health risks are minimal,” said Mr Kiyangah, adding that business opportunities in waste management are enormous and yet not many people know this. He faulted the poor handling of dumpsites for the resistance from many residents.
“County councils have managed dumpsites poorly, allowing them to be sources of diseases, repugnant smells and even havens for criminals,” he said.
In Kisumu, for example, garbage will continue to be dumped at the Kachok dumpsite in the CBD, after residents living near the new Kibigori site rejected the county’s relocation plan. The officials had planned to establish a waste management plant, with the help of private companies, after buying the 50-acre piece of land at a cost of Ksh50 million ($0.54 million).
County managers in Kisumu fear the standoff will scare away investors who had expressed interest in investing in a waste management project that would not only keep the city clean but also generate electricity from the garbage. Kisumu County had signed a Ksh7 billion ($75.78 million) memorandum of understanding with Global Waste to Energy and Integrated Basic Infrastructure Services.
Mombasa County has also been struggling to establish an efficient waste management system, partly due to difficulties in finding land. Resistance to the establishment of a new dumpsite also caused some private investors to withdraw plans to partner with the county in the project.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) says the country is performing poorly on waste management, and that less than 10 per cent of waste generated at any given time is recycled.
However, Kenya’s Vision 2030 proposes the relocation of the Dandora landfill to facilitate more efficient management, and the Kenya Climate Response Strategy Action Plan outlines the strategies for waste management in the country.
According to Zephaniah Ouma, Nema’s acting director in charge of compliance and enforcement, there are a number of waste management technologies that can be used to provide socio economic benefits to the public. These include methane capture from bio-digesters, waste paper recycling, waste composting, waste plastic recycling, methane capture from landfills and water reuse.
However, Nema says among the challenges that have prevented the country from adopting the technologies are: Unregulated private sector participation; lack of a waste management policy; low rate of solid waste recovery; and weaknesses in municipal councils waste management programmes.
Apart from the challenge of finding land, the counties also want the government to help them solve the polythene bags menace, which they say is an environmental problem.
The regional bloc already has a law that controls the use of polythene bags — the East African Community Polythene Materials Control Act, 2011. Although the use, sale, manufacturing and importation of polythene bags is prohibited in the region, the Act also mandates member countries to come up with a list of polythene materials to be used in exceptional cases.
In Kenya, the government has formed a committee, comprising members of the public and the private sector, to look into the issue of polythene bags and come up with recommendations that will strike a balance between business interests and environment conservation.
“We are looking at coming up with an environment levy targeting manufacturers and look at ways of taxing some polythene bags to promote re-use,” said Immaculate Simiyu, a senior compliance officer at Nema.