Nairobi residents are a worried lot.
Apart from navigating through human traffic and crossing roads dominated by unruly matatu drivers, they now also have to worry about open manholes that have become common.
The risk posed by uncovered manholes at the onset of the long rainy season is immense. Just last May, residents of Kampala, Uganda, were shocked by CCTV footage showing how a 56-year-old woman died after slipping into a drainage and being swept away by flood waters during a downpour.
The gaping manholes are not only found in the city centre, but also in Industrial Area and some residential neighbourhoods.
Initially, most of the holes were covered, but over time, the lids were either vandalised or destroyed.
Manholes are small covered openings in a paved area that allow access to a sewer beneath the surface. They are common in robust towns and cities all over the world.
In the city, many streets have open manholes, some of them shallow while others are deep.
Right at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and State House road, a manhole remains uncovered at the sharp bend connecting the two roads.
It is about two feet deep. Without a keen eye, a pedestrian using the sidewalk along Kenyatta Avenue risks falling into the open manhole, breaking a leg.
At night, it is even more difficult to see the manhole especially with trees lining State House avenue on both sides.
On Valley Road, just near the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Centre, a manhole is half covered. Its lid is sliding off. The area surrounding it is full of rocks, making the surface uneven.
On Kipande Road, there are two uncovered manholes at the junction of the road and Itesyo lane. Passengers alighting from matatus in this area must exercise caution or risk falling into the manholes.
Shallow manholes are only two to three feet deep but deep manholes can go up to six feet deep.
If these holes are left ajar or not covered properly it could result in serious injuries or even death.
Outside the city centre, the situation is no different. Residents in Buru Buru phase one are appalled by a wide concrete opening that has a sharp protruding metal. It is located at the Mumias South road bend that is a few metres from Ol Leleshwa road, heading towards the Outering main road.
It is strategically placed and any fall into the hole can be fatal.
In Makadara estate on Jogoo road, residents are complaining of an open manhole that was initially at the centre of Luka Crescent road, just off Hamza road.
With the road initially tarmacked, the manhole was well maintained with a reinforced concrete slab covering it.
But currently, the road is a shell of its initial form and dilapidated, leaving the manhole exposed. Less than two weeks ago, the reinforced lid was taken away by unknown people.
“That place was always covered, but now, we do not know who took it. At first we all thought it is the city inspectorate guys, but it is almost two weeks and we have never seen anyone replacing it. This place is so smelly, especially early morning and at night when the breeze blows,” a resident identified a Mama Kim said.
To avoid risking the fall of children who love playing in the area, residents have covered the manhole with planks of wood, a vehicle bumper and huge stones.
At Kampala Road, some two hundred metres from Enterprise Road, a deep manhole remains without a lid. Papers, garbage and plastic waste are blown into the manhole.
Ms Claire Achieng, a public health expert, expressed concern about the number of open manholes.
Apart from the risk of the holes causing physical harm to people, they also pose a big threat to residents due to the fumes emanating from them.
Danger to health
“When the noxious gases, mainly carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, coming from the manholes are absorbed to then lungs, they cause pulmonary oedema, nausea, delirium and convulsions,” warned Ms Achieng.
“These gases often lead to eye, skin and lung irritations and if not checked, can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, paralysis and kidney failure.”
Civil and structural engineer Pius Nondi maintained that all manholes should remain properly closed at all times.
“The covers of manholes should be made with concrete reinforced with iron bars; the deformed iron bars such as Y10 and Y12. Manholes are called manholes because they are large enough for an adult to enter them. They should also have staircases for someone to step when going down or up the manhole. These steps should be made of iron bars too,” said Mr Nondi.
Whereas many believe that manholes are only made for sewerage passage, the civil engineer clarified that they can also be used for water passage as well as cables used by service providers.
“When a manhole is open, it is prone to blockage, garbage can fall in and it will no longer serve its purpose. There will be a backflow of fluid to residential area, the fluid being contaminated thus poses a health hazard to the area residents,” he stated.
“When a service provider has put underground cables and the manhole is open, anyone can access the cables and that is not a good thing as the provider risks losing investments,” said Mr Nondi.
The Nairobi Metropolitan Services had not responded to queries by the Nation regarding this worrying trend by the time of publishing.