Results from the First Public Opinion Poll in Nairobi on Transportation

Today, Ipsos Ltd released an opinion poll on transportation in Nairobi. Funded by the Center for Sustainable Urban Development and released with the Kenyan Alliance of Resident Associations, the poll (full results here) asked over 800 Nairobi residents what their transportation experiences and concerns are. Too often it seems that transportation experts do not consult with the users of transportation services and roads-forgetting that most people walk or ride matatus. The poll looked at car owning households (401) and a representative sample of Nairobi citizens (415)  with an error bar of +/- 4.9%.

CHsrI40UcAAtOH6First, the poll shows that Nairobians clearly do not feel that they are consulted in transportation decision-making. When asked “when decisions about transportation are made in Nairobi City County, do you think members of the public like you are consulted?” 89% said no. Mr Martin Eshiwani of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure who attended the release conceded that more could be done to connect with the public. The opinion poll, which is becoming more common as a tool for planners, piqued his interest.

Secondly, Nairobians agree completely on some issues. The poll indicates mass support for flexible work hours (91%) and slower speed limits generally (68%) and near schools (98%) especially.These findings are roughly the same whether your household has a car or not. Note that a lower speed limit near schools is the point of contention for some members of parliament when considering passing the Traffic Amendment Bill 2014.  The bill proposes 30 km/hr, and some MPs in the transportation committee want to change this to 50 km/hr, the existing general speed limit. Bright Oywaya of the Kenyan Road Safety task force noted that the survey supports passage of the Traffic Amendment BIll 2014 as is. She explained that if a child is hit at 30 km/hr, the survival rate is 90%. As speed increases the survival rate plummets. This is the scientific reason for the 30 km/hr limit near schools in the Bill. The results also show that a majority of children walk or take a school bus or matatu to work and that roughly a third of parents think this is unsafe or somewhat safe. Road crashes and poor driving as well as crime remain concerns for parents.

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Congestion is a daily headache for Nairobians.

It is no surprise to many that the majority of people take matatus (71%) and walk (42%) every day. It is clear that rail and cycling are very neglected as transportation modes with very few using them on a regular basis. Even car owning households use matatus (37%) and also walk (27%). Security for those taking matatus and personal cars, waiting for the bus or walking on the streets is a major concern.

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Many Nairobians-even those- with cars-would consider cycling if there were special lanes.

Most interesting is that about a third of people including those with access to a car would consider riding a bike to move around if there were special lanes for bikes. This reflects the growing interest among the middle class in cycling, but the current transportation infrastructure does not support this interest that if realised would help with congestion. Cyclists have started to develop a cycling map of Nairobi that indicates where they would like to see new lanes.

Air quality is also an issue with a majority of people deeming the air bad or very bad (69%) and seeing an impact on their health (93%). Transportation is a major source of Nairobi’s air pollution. Still, the majority of people without cars aspire to have one; if current neglect of walking, cycling, rail and matatu improvements continue, then the city is even in more trouble. Already, those surveyed said they lost one hour or more on a typical weekday (48%), a figure that rises to 57% among people in car owning households. Over a third of people lost a job or business opportunity because of transport problems. This may be why many car users in the city seem interested in other options.

Cholera in the City: A Ticking Biological Time Bomb

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Washing clothes and bathing in the contaminated river…

NPI invited guest blogger James Kariuki to discuss the way his neighborhood in Ongata Rongai is experiencing the lack of a proper sewage system and no environmental regulation. Throughout Nairobi’s history people have lamented the failure of the government to invest in proper drainage and sewage treatment systems that would be connected to homes and be affordable. As recent cholera cases reveal, this long standing failure to properly invest in critical urban infrastructure continues to put all Nairobi residents in danger. With climate change, this problem could get worse. James gives us a vivid account from the ground about this “ticking biological time bomb” in his home of Ongata Rongai  and the difficulties of grassroots activists in trying to improve the situation.

BY JAMES KARIUKI

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Children swimming in the Mbagathi River

The cholera outbreak in Kibra- and other slums in Nairobi is really bad news; the areas affected are right in the capital where an estimated 3 million people reside. This is a national tragedy that sends shivers in the hearts of many of us who work and live in the outskirts of the capital. Cholera is one of the most contagious diseases that can spread to a whole region within a very short time. Now that the problem is here, let us not act surprised- worried maybe- but the truth of the matter is; all along, we knew it would happen. We just did not think it would come so soon. Waste disposal in Nairobi and its environs is a big problem. It is even worse in densely populated areas. Almost every slum in Nairobi is adjacent to a river; Mathare slams, Kibra, Sinai, Lunga Lunga, Kia-Ndutu, Kangemi and many others.

For many years, the residents of Ongata Rongai have relied on and benefited from Mbagathi River, an all season’s river that has its source in the dense Ngong forest 30 km west of the town. A fresh water river, people have been coming to its banks for decades to wash clothes, shower and even fetch water for domestic use. Some churches around Ngong and Dagoretti area also use the waters near the source for baptism. It is also a favorite spot for young boys to learn swimming skills.

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Ongata Rongai is a rapidly growing town.

Ongata Rongai is a rapidly growing town attracting real estate development but little environmental control. I have been a resident of Ongata Rongai for the last 16 yrs. I came when there were fewer rental houses and most of the residents were born and brought up here and lived in gated homes, most with extended families. Mbagathi River was a major source of water for the majority of residents. I would go to the river whenever I was off duty for meditation i.e to dip my feet in the clear cold water and smoke weed with my age mates. I would not dare to try that today. A lot has changed; I don’t smoke weed anymore and the River keeps on getting dirtier; a fertile breeding ground for mosquitos and any other water related illness/disease including cholera.

Since then Ongata Rongai has grow sevenfold and still has no sewage system; I know of a businessman in this township who started the exhauster services business with just one tractor; in less than three years, he was commanding a fleet of over seven trucks and making more investments in providing disposal services. The reason he became a millionaire so quickly was because of the demand for his services. As Ongata Rongai continues to expand and the needed sewage system has not been put in by the government: his services are needed.

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Many people illegally dump sewage into the drainage to save money.

Close to Nairobi, Ongata Rongai  is a point of interest for real estate developers and it is on the record as one of the fastest growing towns in Kenya. New rental houses and story apartments are coming up every single day. But as for sewage, there is only one option,: to seek the services of private exhausters. Most surprising, the exhauster business has not kept the pace with the growth as expected bearing in mind that there is still no sewage system and there are 300 times more residents than we were back then. The demand is still where it was seven years ago; the price of draining septic tanks has not changed either. This is in explicable in a business sense bearing in mind the law of supply and demand, demand and costs should have gone up. The reason for this situation is that people have found alternative disposal methods which are pocket friendly, but a curse to residents of this beautiful town. For the last 10 or so years, landlords have been pumping raw sewage from their septic tanks at night to trenches in the streets using portable water pumps. These trenches drain the waste into River Mbagathi. It has become a normal routine to see the trenches overflowing every night even during the dry seasons.

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“We used to use the river for agricultural needs”

Most shocking,  it appears that among the leading polluters of this river is a government funded institution of higher learning. For years, raw sewage from this university has been flowing to this river. The university which is supposed to be leading from the front in conservation is risking the lives of thousands of residents and also wild animals as the waters flows into the Nairobi National Park before joining Athi River. I don’t believe it is a coincidence, that the sewage plant at the university is built less than 100 meters from the river. And I have reasons to believe. it is not by mistake that every day, thousands of liters of green mucky raw sewage flows from the open sewage to the river.

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Once a source of fish, the river now holds raw sewage.

Bernard Ngumi, a father of two teenage children, is a resident of Ongata Rongai. He was born and brought up in this place and  is one of the founders of a self-help group called “Friends of Nature”. This group was originally founded in 1998 mostly by the children of land owners whose large parcels of land touches river Mbagathi. The group was later registered as a CBO and issued with a certificate, but it was to be disbanded a few years later after failing to get support from the locals and vicious campaign by landlords to disband the group as it posed a big threat to those who polluted the river. “We formed this group with the aim of conserving the river for continued use of the fresh water for domestic and agricultural needs.” he said.

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People live right next to open and contaminated water…

“We came together to campaign for the preservation of our source of water-this was after we realized the river was becoming a health risk. It started with the fish dying, then the water changed color and the visits to the hospitals started becoming frequent.” Ngumi explains. “We were not prepared enough and that was our biggest mistake!!! We had not anticipated any resistance since we assumed that everybody would wish to see a cleaner RIVER. As soon as we started questioning and warning offenders that we would take action against anyone polluting the river…”  He pauses as though remembering a certain incident and then shakes his head in disappointment. “Yenyewe corruption ni mbaya- pesa ndio ni kila kitu Kenya!!”  he laments; then continued,,, Some landlords were well connected and had deep pockets,,,,, they colluded with the chief; we were labeled Mungiki . The police started harassing us and breaking our meetings, some members of the group who were most vocal and were threatening to pursue the matter to the courts were secretly bought with bribes and finally the group collapsed.”

“Mbagathi was part of our life; and touched all those close to it. The very rich on the Karen side had installed electric pumps and used the water for fishponds and irrigation. We on the Rongai side could never sleep hungry during our time. The river had clear water and many kinds of fish.”  “Do you remember the big drought in the 80s?”, he asks, looking at me for the first time since our interview started. He had been staring at the river probably remembering his youthful days at banks of the now polluted river. I nod my head; not quite sure whether he was referring to the failed coup in 1982 or the failed rains in 1984. Ngumi goes on,,, “ that was the only time the river stopped flowing and even without the flow we still had plenty of mudfish from hundreds of ponds along the river. This pollution started in the late 90s, when most of our neighbors subdivided the land and sold parcels to real estate developers. With more rental houses, the town became more populated and more polluted. The motors that pumped clean water from the river to homes went silent and those that pump sewage to the river became louder.”

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Many students rent in town.

At just 20 kilometers from Nairobi central business district, Ongata Rongai provides an ideal and a cheaper alternative for civil servants and mostly self employed business people working in Nairobi. It is also a temporally residence for hundreds of university students pursuing studies in the three main Universities located in the out skirts of the town. Namely. Nazarene University, Catholic University and Multi-media University. Most of the students reside in the township in hostels or shared apartments with self contained facilities like toilets and running water. At an estimate five persons per 2 bedroom unit, a five story building with 24 units will host over a hundred people including staff and domestic workers. If we can assume that each person will use 40 liters of water daily for showering, flushing the toilet, washing hands, laundry, utensils etc. 4000 liters of water will go through the waste disposal pipes to the septic tank. In monetary terms; 20.000 Ksh will go toward disposing the waste every month. And that is why pumping the sewage to the street’s drains is much cheaper. After all, everybody else is doing it.

Nairobi’s Traffic Congestion Confusion: Where are the Citizens?

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Nairobi’s congestion-lack of traffic management and transit planning are evident. Courtesy: The Transport and Urban Decongestion Committee Report 2014.

By Jacqueline Klopp

In 2011 Nairobi’s congestion was ranked 4th worst in the world by International Business Machines Corp.’s Commuter Pain survey. Since then, despite various road construction projects including useful bypasses (now ring roads), conditions have gotten worse. Traffic congestion is on everyone’s minds even more than usual these days (if that is possible) with the ongoing redesign of some of Nairobi’s key roundabouts.

These proposed changes- without a proper traffic decongestion and transport strategy (along with basic legal and institutional changes)- could actually make everything worse.  A metropolitan transit authority was recommended in the 1973 Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy,  but this recommendation was ignored until recently when the government put together a steering committee to create a Nairobi Area Metropolitan Transit Authority that would finally take ultimate responsibility for traffic and transit planning and management in the region.

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The plan for intervention by the Executive Task Force on Nairobi Decongestion (see link to presentation below)

In the mean time, the city and the Ministry must act on a proper set of strategic interventions that address the diverse causes of various structural and management bottlenecks in the flow of traffic, along with the the long term forces like increasing population and car ownership that in the long run will undermine any short term measures.  Unless people are given good, efficient and safe transit choices like expanded commuter rail, improved bus services or the ability to ride a bike safely in the city, congestion will be a major problem. So far, the government has been very slow to act on these measures, although with citizen and expert consultation the city county of Nairobi recently developed a very good policy on non-motorized transport (including walking and cycling) and plans for Bus Rapid Transit and improved commuter rail are in the works-although little to no public information is available on these initiatives.

Nairobi needs a proper mass transit system and non-motorized transport infrastructure. For years, the city has neglected much of its transit planning and traffic management responsibilities-the matatu industry, for example, has had to run transit pretty much on its own without the help of planned stops and stations and improved route planning. The Ministry of Transport with international lending institutions have been content to build scattered road projects and more recently transit projects but do not really consult widely, collect open data or monitor the impacts of their interventions.

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Missed opportunity to develop better bus transit? NMT was a clear afterthought on Thika Highway.

Take the Nairobi-Thika Highway upgrade project: it failed to include a smart plan for public transit that carries the bulk of the people in the corridor and in the absence of this plan, did not cater for the existing matatu system that does provide service. It ignored pedestrians and cyclists and the infrastructure that was put in as an afterthought is extremely poor. Thika Highway now has a growing congestion problem, a management problem and a traffic violence problem all very likely to grow worse than before. But who is monitoring and will advocate for the public interest?

Nairobi’s gridlock is a symptom of this basic neglect to manage transportation infrastructure, traffic and transit. The problem has finally reached a point where we are seeing some action. Sadly, this is also where some confusion is arising. On 27 January 2014 Governor Kidero commissioned a committee of local experts and stakeholders including the Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations and the Matatu Owner’s Association among others to address Nairobi’s congestion. Led by a respected University of Nairobi professor Dr. Marion Mutugi, this Transport and Urban Decongestion Committee (TUDC) for the first time held a wide ranging set of meetings with Nairobians and experts on how to address congestion. Their recommendations-based on consultations with citizens and diverse local experts from matatu owners to ambulance drivers- are very sensible. You can read the TUDC report handed to the governor here.

So why was the report shelved by the governor? It was surprising to hear last month that a new Executive Task Force on Congestion had formed at the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure. The Task Force gave a presentation and  immediately hired contractors to take out key roundabouts  and are planning to redesign matatu routes (without route data, I discovered). You can see the presentation this new executive task force gave last month which provides some information of their plans now moving forward in Nairobi. Why did the Ministry with support from the governor derail a citizen and local expert led, open process for addressing decongestion?  Why is an executive initiative planning to tear up roundabouts in the city (which require a proper traffic management system to work!!!) without engaging the work of the TUDC and local experts who are eager to engage in the sort of process needed for sustained change? For too long the transportation sector has been treated as a kind of moneymaking club where citizens and most local experts have no say. If we want to fix congestion in Nairobi, we should go back to the TUDC report and with the support of the committee and all who contributed to it, start from there. The city and the Ministry need to build a transparent and accountable set of steps towards actual traffic management and transport planning based on shared data and public information, citizen and local expert feedback and monitoring. Otherwise, Nairobi, center of almost half the country’s economic production and opportunity, will grind to a halt.

Nairobi Planning Innovations is pleased to also note that the Kenya Institute of Public Policy and Research Analysis has just released a valuable policy brief on Mitigating Road Traffic Congestion in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region.

Upgrading Occupied Space: What is the National Youth Service Doing in Mathare and Kibera?

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Waiting for eviction in Kibera. What next?

By Simon Kokoyo

The Kenyan government through the National Youth Service (NYS) has decided to improve the general living conditions in poor neighborhoods of Nairobi, namely Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Mukuru. These neighborhoods are known for high population density, inadequate health facilities, insecurity, unemployment and almost nonexistent garbage collection systems. The poor conditions in Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Mukuru can easily create an impression that there has never been government intervention or development plans for these areas and creates the temptation to address problems that seem amenable to a ‘quick fix’ like picking up garbage.

In Mathare, NYS personnel together with selected community members conducted a mapping exercise to identify needs or places that require a ‘quick fix’ such as uncollected garbage piles and blocked drainage and rivers. They are also  planning to construct dispensaries, police posts, fish ponds, markets, posho mills and urban farming areas. When President Uhuru visited Mathare and said that dispensaries, police posts, markets, fish ponds, posho mills and sewer lines will be constructed creating employment opportunities for more than 3500 youths including women, everybody was happy and waiting to see the new look of Mathare and other neighborhoods earmarked for improvement. After three weeks of clearing garbage, cleaning drainages and opening rivers, questions are now emerging; do we really need the planned 12 police posts, 12 dispensaries and how did NYS team arrive at all these figures in Mathare? It has now also dawned on the community that these facilities will require space, which is currently occupied.

Affected area

Mathare is a place where spaces for public amenities have been grabbed-where to build and how to move those to be displaced

It is common knowledge that certain open spaces that were set aside for social amenities have been occupied or grabbed a long time ago. None of this grabbing has ever been addressed. Now, as amenities are being built, people will have to be displaced. For example in Mathare 3B, more than 500 residents have already been issued with 30 days notice by the Nairobi City County to pave way for NYS projects in Mathare or to move out of a piece of land identified for market development. In Kibera people who had occupied spaces meant for sewer lines, toilet blocks and roads were expected to vacate immediately. Some have already been displaced without compensation.

Once the NYS and some community leaders identify a piece of land for improvement or development a short notice is issued and occupants are expected to carry out a voluntary demolition and in some cases NYS locally hired youths will assist. There is lot of movement (shifting) within Kibera and Mathare, which is not painless for families, and if the intent is to improve the conditions of the poor, then these people require some support and compensation for their sacrifice for the broader community. In addition, in some place like Lindi-Kibera rents have increased after improvement on road and other social amenities. These adverse impacts of the NYS interventions on the very poor should be addressed. In the past, unless there are safeguards, slum improvements tend to drive out the poorest who are meant to benefit.

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Where are the people who lived and worked here in Kibera now?

Everybody agrees that the inhumane conditions in the poor neighborhoods need to be improved urgently. However, the government should be sensitive to the fact that such communities have emerged over long period of time and as a result of certain push and pull factors common with cities experiencing rapid urbanization such as poverty, forceful eviction, conflicts, job opportunities, closeness to resources or affordable housing. Past experiences in Kenya (Mathare 4A and Kibera Upgrading Projects) show that slum or informal settlement upgrading is a complex and time-consuming process. Residents require some compensation for their losses or need to be shown alternative land for displacement to be humane and in compliance with the law. When people are moved this will impact their ability to access jobs, customers and services. It also affects children who are schooling in the area. The National Youth Service projects should think about how it is approaching evictions. It is good that the government is in a hurry to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods, but it should go beyond the “quick fix” mentality to have a long term vision so that the amenities are staffed and financed and can have an impact on people’s wellbeing. Finally, if this initiative is to be pro-poor, the government should also be sensitive to the needs of those who will be displaced in order to improve poor neighborhoods. The government must also comply with the law in moving people which entails proper procedures and some compensation or alternative location.

Nairobi Planning Innovations is appreciative of the attention the government is paying to these poor communities. It is still important, however, to note that interventions should be compliant with both the constitution (Article 43(1)(b)  which states that, every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation) and the little known The Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities Act, 2012 which sets out guidelines for how displacement is to happen to respect the rights and dignity of the displaced.

New Measures to Protect School Children in Nairobi and Beyond

Children are pedestrians in Nairobi. Recently, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations hosted a meeting on the Traffic Amendment Act 2014. The bill, sponsored by MP Joseph Lekuton with support from the International Institute of Legislative Affairs proposes to protect nursery to secondary school children as they make their way to and from school, play or visit a health clinic. The proposed changes include stronger regulations for vehicles used to ferry kids to and from school, reduced speeds near well marked school zones and safe road design with good pedestrian walkways and crossing in areas where children predominate. Some initial resistance to this bill has emerged; it seems that some legislators do not like the reduced speeds and high fines for speeding in children/school zones. See the report of the Departmental Committee on Transport, Public Works and Housing where the MPs are willing to trade children’s safety for what they think will be fewer traffic jams. (However, I do not believe that the slower speed causes jams-poor traffic management does. The whole city of New York runs on a speed limit of 40 km/hr.)

First, it might be noted that it has taken far too long for policymakers to offer some basic legal protections for some of the most vulnerable on Kenya’s streets. It seems they forget the Kenya is a young society with many small people who no doubt find many roads with speeding vehicles, poor walkways and many traumatizing crashes even more terrifying than we do. Some have disabilities that make navigating the city even more difficult and treacherous.

Secondly, it is clear that Kenya is behind basic global practice for providing safe urban environments. This practice is not necessarily costly and can save lives and money. For example, all over the world speed limits are being reduced in dense urban areas for pedestrian safety. This is based on the simple fact that lower speeds generate more reaction time to avoid crashes and that if someone is hit at lower speeds the chances of survival increase significantly.

From the WHO Pedestrian Safety Manual :http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/79753/1/9789241505352_eng.pdf

From the latest WHO Pedestrian Safety Manual

According to the latest World Health Organisation  Pedestrian Safety Manual: The speed at which a car is traveling influences both crash risk and crash consequences. The effect on crash risk comes mainly via the relationship between speed and stopping distance. The higher the speed of a vehicle, the shorter the time a driver has to stop and avoid a crash, including hitting a pedestrian (see figure above). Taking into account the time needed for the driver to react to an emergency and apply the brakes, a car travelling at 50 km/h will typically require 36 metres to stop, while a car travelling at 40 km/h will stop in 27 metres.

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Children going to school in Kisumu.

Thirdly, some of you may not be aware that while we debate how much regulation we need on matatus, school buses and other vehicles used to take kids to school are hardly regulated at all! Poor kids are often crammed onto bodabodas nearly ready to tumble off and without helmets. Some walk on very dangerous streets without footpaths and proper crossings. Others take schools buses driven by people who do not have correct training and are not properly vetted. Unlike matatus that are required to have a yellow stripe, school vehicles are also not required to be one standard color or have a feature that makes them visible to all.

School vehicles need better regulation.

School vehicles need better regulation.

Finally, basic design features for safety make a difference in reducing pedestrian harm including segregated  footpaths that are easy to use and intelligently designed crosswalks and lights. Yet engineers in Kenya do not even have a basic road design manual for urban areas. This may change for Nairobi once the new Non-Motorized Transport Policy is put into place and implemented. All these measures along with strong adult supervision of children on the streets  (The Lollipop Project  is doing this by placing crossing guards at the busiest intersections of Nairobi) can can make a strong impact. The Bill by promoting many of these sensible measures would protect Kenya’s children, save lives and introduce a stronger culture of respect for pedestrians including the littlest, most vulnerable ones.

You can watch a synopsis of the KARA meeting here and send comments about the Bill to info@kara.or.ke. Send us your comments too. We’d like to hear your views on these issues! See also our previous interview with Dr. Khayesi of the World Health Organisation.

First World’s Laws for a Third World Country.

nairobiplanninginnovations:

Children in Nairobi need more protection from traffic and the Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2014 is providing some important guidelines for improvement. However, there are some key issues remaining including will the government proactively start putting resources into safety including in safe transport for lower income children who often use bodaboda or matatus? This is a valuable view from one of Nairobi’s own matatu drivers who is also a father and a proponent of safety!

Originally posted on Wambururu's Blog:

Kenya is still ranked as a third world country. As much as We {Kenyans} don’t love or feel comfortable being referred as a 3nd world, we cannot escape this classification since it is not based on what we would wish’ but what we have done compared to other nations of the earth.
We may be building standard gauge railways and probably subways are on the way, Its true, these infrastructures will indeed; push us forward toward escaping the ratings, ease how we travel and communicate and make our country more attractive to other developed nations. But as it stands today we are still a 3nd world.
Our president is leading from the front and we all admire his confidence, we are encouraged by his determination to get us out of the woods, not only for us Kenyans but for Africa as a whole. His call for African solution for Africa’s…

View original 1,245 more words

Cleaning Nairobi’s Air for a Healthier City: Interview with Public Health Expert Kanyiva Muindi

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Often a thick cloud of smog hands over Nairobi: Source http://aphrc.org/vehicles-air-pollution-and-health/

Nairobi, like many of the world’s cities, is facing a growing problem of air pollution which can have very serious health impacts. Recently, NPI  had a chance to talk to one of the city’s public health and air quality experts Kanyiva Muindi. Kanyiva is a researcher at the Nairobi-based African Population and Health Research Center who is finishing her PhD at Umea University in Sweden. She is passionate about cleaning Nairobi’s air and took some time to explain why this is important.

NPI: As a public health expert can you explain to us why Nairobians should be concerned about the quality of the air they breathe?

Air is an essential public good that each of us must breathe, whatever state it is in. It is each person’s responsibility to take action to ensure the air is clean. One may wonder why bother about air quality. Research indicates that in a few years, most of us will be living in an urban area  and that urban air pollution is the biggest environmental risk factor faced in today’s world and a leading environmental cause of cancer. In 2012 alone, air pollution (both outdoor and indoor) led to 7 million premature deaths globally (equivalent to about 64 planes carrying 300 passengers and crew crashing each day). In addition, air pollution has been implicated in the development/aggravation of cardiovascular illnesses such as hypertension and heart disease. Respiratory illnesses including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are also caused/worsened by poor air quality. With Kenyans waking up to news of increasing cases of cancers, and many of us suffering from or having a person close to us suffering from a chronic respiratory illness such as asthma or COPD, we search for reasons why these diseases seem to be getting too common… the answers might lie in the air we breathe.

NPI: In a nutshell, what do we know about Nairobi’s air quality?

There is scattered evidence about the air quality in Nairobi and all seems to point to poor air quality with levels of particulate matter being several fold above the  World Health Organisation guidelines.

NPI: Which are the most vulnerable populations in terms of impacts of poor air quality?

All individuals are vulnerable to the impacts of poor air quality, however, children, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or asthma are at elevated risk given poor air quality. In Nairobi city, I would also add unique groups such as hawkers, traffic police officers, matatu/bus crew and beggars who are exposed to high volumes of traffic for most part of each working day as among those most vulnerable to the impacts of poor air quality.

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Vehicle emissions are a key source of pollution. Owners need to keep their vehicles in good shape and use clean fuels. Congestion and idling also create problems for air quality.

NPI:  Do we know the major sources of air pollution in the city?

I would say we somehow know the major sources of pollution; existing studies have indicated that motor vehicles are the major sources of air pollution in the city. In addition, other sources such as industries and open burning of garbage contribute substantially to poor air quality in the city. However, a comprehensive city-wide study would be important to bring to the fore the major sources of air pollution.

NPI:  How can citizens get information about the quality of their air? Is there enough data and information out there?

Currently, I know of no single resource where citizens can obtain information about the quality of air in the city. Much of the existing evidence is in peer reviewed journals which might only be accessible to few Nairobians. Further, we do not have city-wide data collected in a systematic way. Both the lack of comprehensive data and an information resource on air quality are issues that need to be addressed to avail this critical information to Nairobians and indeed to Kenyans.

NPI: Can you describe your research briefly and some of the most critical findings?

My research is looking at household air quality in two Nairobi slums with particular interest in people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards air pollution, the levels of household air pollutants and the effect of these on birth weight. This research involves both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Some of the critical findings include the perceived better quality of household air compared with outdoor air in both communities despite reported practices that encourage higher concentrations of pollutants indoors. For example there is poor use of ventilation during cooking episodes especially in the evening. Another critical finding was the feeling of helplessness among community members to address some of the air quality issues they face- there was general settling into the situation- a finding that calls for awareness creation in these communities to inform and stir people into action. Further, household particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) (which is particularly bad for health) was found to be much higher than the outdoor level especially in households relying on charcoal fuel and the local tin lamp (koroboi) for lighting.

NPI:  What would you like to see change in how the city and the central government are addressing poor air quality? What can citizens do on this issue and where can they find more information?

First I would like to see an air protection act come into being- I am aware that a bill on air quality has been pending in parliament and it would be a step in the right direction if this were signed into law. Secondly, it would be important to have monitoring stations in different parts of the city to provide continuous information on levels of key pollutants as this would inform decisions that city managers and individuals make; for example city managers can use this information to call for a reduced traffic flow into the city on days when levels of pollutants are high. Third, there should be efforts to engage lay people in the air quality discourse so that when certain decisions that affect them are made, they buy into these decisions and support their implementation. Lastly, could we think about educating the future generations and empowering them early in life to take actions that protect the air we breathe? I feel it would be a great investment if we were to include in our education curriculum (from primary level) such subjects like exposure sciences and build the next generation of scientists who would lead in assessing levels of pollutants and innovating solutions that would lead to better lives for urban dwellers.

Citizens also have a responsibility to ensure that the air is clean. This can be achieved if we all are made aware of the ways in which we each contribute to making the air quality poor and the consequences of exposure to poor air quality. Having the right information empowers individuals to make well-informed decisions and I believe that providing Kenyans with this information should spur change in some of the behaviors that lead to poor air quality. Further, the current constitution assures each citizen the right to a safe clean environment in which to live; it is therefore our right to demand for actions taken to assure us of clean air as part of a clean environment (I usually feel that water and land are given more emphasis than air when we talk about the environment).

NPI will continue to give readers updates on this issue. The government has been planning for some time to introduce air quality regulations. It is unclear why this has not yet happened. More recently, Kenya along with other East African countries, has phased out fuels that contain high levels of sulfur, a step in the right direction. However, we will not be able to measure the improvements since no monitoring system is in place- an urgent priority if we are to get a  more fine grained understanding of the air quality in Nairobi and its health impacts and use this knowledge to design effective measures to make the air clean and healthy for residents.

UPDATE: NPI has obtained a copy of the existing regulations Please find them here: regulations.  It appears that the min reason these have not passed is concern by manufacturers about the cost. The government might find a way to support industries to access affordable technologies to help clean their emissions.