Residents fed up with Nairobi slums ‘full of filth’ call on authorities in online campaign

People online have been sharing images of rivers of filth and piles of garbage in Korogocho, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.
People online have been sharing images of rivers of filth and piles of garbage in Korogocho, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. © Twitter / @Honeyfarsaf

Since the beginning of November, concerned citizens have been sharing images of pollution and sewage leakage in Korogocho, a slum outside Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Residents say that the problem of filth and detritus in their neighbourhood has persisted for at least 15 years, impacting local populations and nearby buildings, including a hospital and school. The online campaign to draw attention to this mess has evolved to call attention to widespread problems with pollution, sanitation and government neglect in Nairobi’s slums. 

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Korogocho is one of the largest slums on the outskirts of Nairobi. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are packed into 1.5 square kilometres – often in houses made of mud, cinder blocks and corrugated iron. In Swahili, Korogocho means “crowded shoulder-to-shoulder”.

Korogocho struggles with serious drainage problems, which causes sewage to leak onto the streets. This is in addition to piles of garbage and litter which line the neighbourhood. Many residents of Nairobi’s slums lack running water, toilets and proper solid waste disposal systems. Without proper sanitation services or hygiene infrastructure, people in the slum are forced to depend on pit latrines or so-called “flying toilets”, when people dispose of waste in plastic bags. Waste runs into rivers, in turn creating water scarcity. 

On November 2, Nairobi resident Hanifa Safia posted images of the sewage on the streets of Korogocho on Twitter, pledging to continue sharing for 30 days, or until local authorities promised to fix the problem.

Videos and photos of the sewage leakage show a river of waste running in the middle of the street. Residents are forced to step over it as they pass. The location is between a hospital, primary school and playground

‘One cannot walk through the road without being splashed by filth’

Yurub Isaak is a university student who was born and raised in Korogocho. 

The sewer leakage has been there for so long. It is an ugly sight. I remember it was still there when we were kids. It has leaked for that long. One cannot walk through the road without being splashed by filth. It gets worse during the rainy seasons. Floods everywhere. Nothing passes. 

It's on the main road where everyone walks by – both children and adults.  It is highly dangerous for kids. Children are reckless and are bound to play in such areas. They have been exposed to a lot of risks. There is a government primary school opposite the leakage and that's where the children pass when coming and going to school. 

The Daniel Comboni Primary School is just across the street from the worst of the leakage. Poor sanitation and open sewage can have major impacts on public health, especially among children, contributing to risks of polio, cholera, typhoid fever and other water-borne diseases. 

There are other concerning health impacts of this pollution – particularly because it exists just behind the main hospital in the neighbourhood.

Mama Margaret Kenyatta Hospital opened its doors in December 2021 after construction was stalled for years. It’s the only “level five” facility in this part of Nairobi, meaning it’s the only hospital with more than 100 beds and the capacity to handle more than 250 patients a day across medical, pediatric, surgical and gynaecological services. 

But residents say that rather than improving the conditions in the slum, the hospital has just added to the number of people impacted by this sewage.

Isaak explained:

When they were constructing the new level five hospital we thought they would get rid of it but they just put up a wall, and it's actually leaking inside if I'm not wrong. There is only a thin wall between them.

There are so many problems with the garbage in this slum. Some meters away from this leakage exists small dump sites on the roads. People dump garbage anywhere and it is full of filth.

Images shared online also show garbage piled up along the streets of Korogocho. The neighbourhood also borders the Dandora dumpsite, Nairobi’s main dumping ground, where more than 2,000 tonnes of waste are dumped each day. Local residents – even children – often scavenge the dumpsite to find goods to sell. 

Toxic materials from the dumpsite run into nearby neighbourhoods as well as the Nairobi River, which is used for irrigation.

In July 2021, a court ordered the closure of the Dandora dumpsite, to be replaced with more environmentally friendly waste disposal infrastructure, but the dumpsite remains open. 

‘The slums are run and held together by NGOs or most would be starving and out of school’

The government has historically neglected Nairobi’s slums in its laws to maintain proper sanitation services, because “these areas are not and have not historically been integrated into the city’s urban plans”, the Nairobi City Council Planning Department told Amnesty International. But at least 60% of the metropolis’ nearly 5 million inhabitants live in slums, most of them disconnected from public water and sewage lines.

Hanifa Safia is the citizen journalist who began sharing images of the Korogocho sewage on Twitter.

One of the major problems in these slums is hygiene. Nairobi does not have a proper hygiene system or a proper drainage system. These people from the slums are the ones always paying the price. That sewer leakage comes from different parts and areas and has been leaking for years, such a dehumanising situation. 

The slums, mostly Korogocho, Mathare and Kibera are run and held together by NGOs or most people would be starving and out of school. The garbage problem thrives more in the slums. There is nothing to show for in these slums where their leaders have helped or elevated them.

I keep sharing videos and pictures to get the governor to do something since they only act when their public image is at risk. It is actually working. 

Safia has so far received responses from the governor of the Nairobi City Council as well as the Director of Water and Sanitation. Both parties have promised to look into the problems facing Korogocho residents. 

In the meantime, she has started sharing posts denouncing the sanitary situation in other slums around Nairobi

Projects like the Nairobi Sewerage Improvement Project are helping increase the sewer network in the Kenyan capital. The programme increased sanitation coverage from 40% to 48% between 2012 and 2017.