Garbage Free Mombasa
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Mombasa is stinking. Garbage is all over. Mountainous heaps of refuse are piling up in major estates and slums faster than the county can clear it. Some are nicknamed ‘Mt Sultan’, after the governor’s pseudonym.
The situation had become dire before the county mounted a cleanup, but the cleanliness was short-lived.
Public waste bins in town are filling up faster than ever. Inevitably, many end up overflowing. The end result: cluttered streets, bad odours, clogged sewers and negative health and environmental impacts.
Diseases outbreaks like cholera have become recurrent. Residents are dying. Some are isolated and lying helplessly in a “poorly” funded government hospital.
Over Sh1 billion was reported lost in a garbage tendering and procurement scandal. Details of an investigation have never been made public. Three years on, it is unclear whether the EACC concluded its job.
Since Governor Hassan Joho came to power, the county is unable to competently tackle the waste threat. All kinds of filth and untreated waste — ranging from sanitary pads to syringes, plastics, rubber, lead-based paints and toxic chemicals — have become part and parcel of the tourist town. The passing of the Waste Management Bill in July proved futile.
In the most recent cholera outbreak, two people died. County officers rushed to close eateries, believing they were the source. Though true, heaps of garbage allowed to pile up were partly or the biggest cause. As result, environmental activists have threatened to sue.
Critics have equated Mombasa’s waste problems and unhygienic conditions to Italy’s Naples and India’s Surat. The mafia is accused of dumping toxic waste around the city of Naples, causing high rates of cancer, allergies and birth defects. Surat suffered pneumonic plague epidemic in 1994 that claimed 52 lives.
A contract to collect garbage in Mombasa was cancelled eight months ago, compounding the problem.There has been no collection ever since until November 2015 County secretary Francis Thoya is reliably informed that Joho’s administration could not pay Fast Movers and Hauliers Ltd close to Sh140 million. This led to a fallout and eventually contract cancellation.
Yogesh Vaja, the company’s director, termed their relationship with the county “strenuous” and riddled with challenges.
“Debts have not been serviced,” he said, adding that garbage trucks lying idle in Kibarani dumping site are in good shape.
Vaja said the contract must be respected.
“Four county trucks can’t manage the town. We have 70 vehicles to do the job. We can clean the town,” he said. He said the county is overwhelmed. “Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! It’s that bad.”
WAGES OF GRAFT?
Ideally, garbage trucks are supposed to be stationed at transfer points. Once full, they are emptied at a dumping site in Mwakirunge. But since the contract was cancelled, no truck has been on site. Residents have been forced to dump where trucks used to park. As a result, heaps of rubbish — some toxic and dangerously contaminated — were created.
Neighbouring homes and schools have been hard hit by the pollution. Precious Brown Primary School in Kongowea has been forced to find an alternative playing field. Its students, as young as five, have been admitted because of infections, chronic diseases and accidents. The foul smell has made studies almost impossible.
The garbage tendering scandal is taking a toll on residents. The EACC confirmed the money was indeed embezzled. Through its former spokesperson Yunis Aila, the anti-graft body in January said: “It is just a matter of time before we conclude investigations and hand over our findings to the authorities for action.”
Ex-senator Hassan Omar was the whistleblower. And former Bamburi MCA Riziki Fundi said he was kicked out of the Finance Committee when he questioned the deal.
Omar in January said an irregular annual payment of Sh300 million was being made for garbage collection to a company closely associated with Joho. No job was done, Omar said.
“The contract was single-sourced in contravention of the Public Procurement Act 2015, to a company whose directors are cronies of the governor,” Omar said.
Joho, through proxies, including his communications officer Richard Chacha, denied. They dismissed Omar as a “coward”.
Plans to set up a recycling plant in Mombasa have flopped several times. A Sh2 billion Private Public Partnership waste management project conceived in 2012 is dead. The partnership would have seen Bamburi Cement company construct a state-of-the-art recycling plant.
Water executive Fatma Awale during her vetting, said the plan hit dead-end because the proposed site was private.
Another Italian company — Jacorossi Imprese — in 2009 was about to be awarded a tender to set up a different recycling plant. Plans were scuttled when the French government, via the French Development Agency, promised a Sh1.1 billion grant for a similar venture.
In a tussle that sucked in the Tourism CS Najib Balala and Opposition chief Raila Odinga, the council was ordered to stop any dealings with the Italian company. The issue has never been addressed and residents continue to bear the brunt of poor waste management.
Thoya has said Mombasa is being cleaned to eliminate the cholera threat. The county secretary said “there is a lot of garbage” but the town would be clean “in the next two days”.
“As we are talking, the island is clean. We are moving to the outskirts,” he said.
Health executive Hazel Koitaba said the situation is “contained” and “infected persons isolated”. She banned food selling in town and estates. Outsourced foods from unlicensed hotels are also forbidden.
Cholera and garbage are linked. Cholera being an infectious disease, it causes severe watery diarrhoea leading to dehydration and even death if untreated. It is caused by eating or drinking contaminated food and water. The disease is most common in places with poor sanitation, crowding, war and famine. At least 150,000 cases are reported to the World Health Organisation each year.
“The state of cleanness is always linked to the spread of such diseases,” Thoya admitted.
The county secretary said garbage has not been collected for “some time” because of “internal challenges”.
“You see, the turnaround time in terms of garbage collection contributes to build-up. If we delay to pick up garbage, you will see this situation,” he said.
“We must agree, there were internal problems in terms of the equipment we had, but that has been sorted.”
He said the contract to collect garbage ended “about one and half years ago”, and the county is now in charge. He denied that the termination led to the garbage heaps.
“We are going to enhance the collection of garbage. We are going to move this garbage daily and internal challenges have been solved,” he said.
He said delayed disbursement of funds from the National Treasury compounded the problem.
However, residents feel the county has been “unwilling” to act and should be held responsible for ailments and deaths.
Resident Moses Juma said Joho has not lived up to his pledge to clean the town.
Anthony Muruki said Mombasa is “the dirtiest county in Kenya”.
Driver Nasri Ali, said, “Kongewea stack has been formed for the last five months. This is like Mt Kilimanjaro.” He said water flows through the garbage.
Noor Said said politicians who helped to bring sanity have gone “missing”. She said her eatery business has been hurt because she has been blocked from trading.
“We are paying taxes. Why is Joho doing this? I’m a widow,” she said.
Thomas Odhiambo, a garbage collector in Nyali, said, “There were trucks operating in this area. When they left, we were directed to dump refuse on the ground.”
He said the county only “scoops garbage when it spills to the road and moves it back”.
Research by waste management guru Matti Juutinen shows overflowing waste is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, insects and vermin.
“The flies that visit the garbage are also the same flies that roam around your lunch buffet and drop their offspring on your plate. By doing so, they increase the risk of you contracting salmonella, which causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, enteric fever, gastroenteritis and other major illnesses,” the study published by Ecube Labs says.
Juutinen said overflowing garbage causes air pollution, leading to respiratory diseases and other adverse health effects.
“Contaminants are absorbed from lungs into other parts of the body. In everyday life, we identify the polluted air, especially through bad odours, which are usually caused by decomposing and liquid waste items.”
Suggestions have been floated to ensure the 2,200 tonnes of garbage produced daily generate power. Suleiman Shahbal, an economist with interests in the oil and gas industries, said such amounts of waste can produce a 20-megawatt power plant.
Environmental activists have threatened legal action against the Mombasa administration.
Active Environmental Team said two weeks before the cholera outbreak, they sounded the alarm.
“Nobody took any action. We cannot allow our people to go on dying over a simple thing. Containing garbage is the county’s work,” chief coordinator Ben Wemali said.
He faulted the Joho administration for setting transfer stations for garbage in residential areas.
“This should not be the case. After rains, flies are all over, liquid from the heaps mix with sewer and pipe water to cause contamination,” he said.
“We will not allow people to play with lives in the name of failing to clean Mombasa.”
Wemali said the “county is not working” and cholera is killing people because “there is no serious action”.
Nema said it cannot handle the matter.
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