The 2010 Constitution of Kenya, Article 42, on the environment provides that “every person has a right to a clean and healthy environment.” Article 2 of the fourth Schedule in the Constitution of Kenya explicitly provides that the County Governments shall be responsible for refuse removal, refuse dumps, and solid waste removal. Further, Kenya’s development blueprint, Vision 2030, recognized the need to develop solid waste management systems in Nairobi County, as well as Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Thika and Eldoret.
Most towns have inefficient waste management systems. For instance, a study done by Habitat found that 30-40 percent of waste generated in Nairobi is not collected and that only 50 percent of the population is served. The National Solid Waste Management Strategy developed by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) reported that currently, Nairobi generates 2400 tonnes of waste per day. Of these, 80 percent are collected, 20 percent is uncollected and 45 percent of the waste is recovered.
The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) carried out a social audit in Nairobi County, between May and June 2016, to assess the state of waste management. The institution collaborated with representatives in Embakasi South, Kibra and Westlands to determine the efficiency of refuse collection, accountability and transparency in the process, and utilization of budgetary allocations.
The findings show that despite increased budget allocations, the county is underperforming. The County is mandated to ensure that waste collection areas are zoned, that there is the timely and regular collection of all solid wastes, and that waste collection facilities such as skips, bulk containers and waste cubicles are regularly emptied. The study reported a low rate of garbage collection, with only one lorry operational in each sub-county. There are no clear designated zones or facilities for waste collection leading to rampant dumping of garbage along the roads and rivers.
Even though 53 per cent of residents agreed that there were designated points, an assessment of these locations by the social auditors established that a majority of these points were illegal and had not been approved by the County.
There were also marked disparities in the fees charged to residents to access the garbage collection service. Low-income earners decried the high costs for garbage collection, noting that different residents were being charged different fees despite living in the same locality, with garbage collectors using these disparities to exploit residents. For example, in Embakasi South, residents paid a monthly fee of between Kshs 100 in AA area to Kshs 2500 in Unique estate.
One of the central guiding principles of Article 42 of the Constitution on the Environment is that citizens, not only have a right to a clean and healthy environment but that there should be “public participation in the management, protection and conservation of the environment.” However, citizen demands and priorities are never factored in budgetary allocations. There should be public participation in decisions around establishing designated collection points, organizing clean-ups, ensuring regular waste collection, engaging youths in waste management, undertaking civic education, and even decisions on purchasing of garbage bins and trucks.
Residents are not involved in discussions around designated collection points, and up to 60 per cent did not know of organized clean-ups. As a result of poor involvement, many residents did not know who was responsible for what activities. Residents in Mkuru wa Jenga could not differentiate between employees for Nairobi City County and youth who were also charged for garbage collection.
In the areas surveyed, 45 percent of waste was managed by the youth, 22 percent by landlords/ladies, 12 percent by Nairobi City County, and 7 percent by the National Youth Service. The role of NYS needs to be questioned. With a staff payroll of Kshs 484 million in FY 2015/16 and Kshs 567 million in FY 2016/16, the decision of the County to utilize NYS is not sustainable.
Lack of accountability in solid waste management makes it difficult to know who is responsible for waste collection as no clear information is presented to the residents. There was also minimal efforts on environmental education and public sensitization as a way of improving awareness and promoting public participation in environmental matters.
While the youth play a bigger role in waste management, than even the County government, there is a lack of clarity on their role. Those intending to pursue it as a source of livelihood have to grapple with cumbersome processes for obtaining licenses for garbage collection. The requirement that they have to own a fleet of at least five lorries to secure the license means that they are effectively locked out from gaining from the process.
What is the way forward?
Vision 2030 recognized that efficient and sustainable systems for waste management must be developed as the country strives to become an industrialized middle-income state, and encourage additional investments in the sector. The TISA team did not, however, encounter any evidence of visible development projects, neither was there any accountability board that could be reached to provide relevant project information.
The NEMA National Waste Management Strategy is guided by a zero-waste principle where waste is viewed as a resource that can be harnessed in the creation of wealth, employment, and reduction of environmental pollution. To achieve this, waste management systems, starting from the collection, transportation, disposal and licensing must be developed through a participatory process.
Owing to the significant role that the youth play, there is a need for greater focus on empowering them with skills in solid waste management, particularly in waste segregation and recycling. The emergence of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in the form of Youth Groups and other Self Help Organizations involving community members in cleaning up of communities should be encouraged. The County should streamline licensing procedures to make it simple and affordable for the youth to be economically engaged in active garbage collection, sorting, recovery, and sale of recyclables to waste dealers, while also designating communal waste collection points, improving transportation, and ensuring safe disposal of solid wastes.