A narrow freshly-graded murram road off the Thika superhighway leads the Nation crew to Kiuu Ward in Kiambu County. A few kilometres from the main road is a partly water-logged and partly dry area that has cracks on the ground.
It is nearly two weeks since the rain fell but residents are still confronted with rain water mixed with sewage, after the sewerage burst due to a blockage. A repulsive stench forces any visitor to hold their breath periodically, but after some time, like the locals, one gets used to it.
The vehicle is forced to stop halfway through the narrow alley because of huge rocks that are a few metres ahead. The rocks causing obstruction are covering the sewer inspection chamber that caused havoc about two weeks ago in Githurai 45.
Filled with sludge
A hundred metres from the blocked path, an elderly woman, Ms Njambi wa Mbogo, is getting into her house, one that she abandoned a week earlier after it was filled with sludge and rain water.
“I woke up on a Sunday morning and on stepping on the floor, my legs were immersed in water. The water had almost reached my knee. My grandchildren tried pouring some of it outside using buckets but here we are, they are yet to drain it all out,” she narrates.
“I stay there (pointing at her new house). The landlord gave us a room that I live in with my grandchildren,” she said.
“This year I got a good offer of a place to stay; last year, I was forced to move into a chicken coop,” she added.
Just outside her house, the chicken coop is also waterlogged. In her house, she has placed her sofas on top of one another and they are supported by small rocks to prevent them from getting soaked in the foul-smelling water.
Ms Mbogo blames the Kiambu County Government for allegedly opening up the dams when it rains and a contractor who broke the sewer line while flattening a feeder road in the area.
“Now look at how my house is flooded. When will I ever get rid of that water? How will I remove it? Yet it is my grandchildren who will have to remove it because I do not have money to remove the sewage from my house,” she laments.
Her two grandchildren are still in school. She says that some days they miss school because of their legs, and sometimes the chests were in pain.
“My grandchildren are yet to have any complication with the stomach. But, I have taken them several times to a local clinic when they complained of chest and leg pains,” she explains.
We ask the residents if they have had any stomach complications since the sewage burst, and whether they go to hospital.
“I have not had any stomach complications. God loves us. How could we afford emergency hospital bills and we do not have a government hospital nearby,” Ms Josephine Kathure tells us.
We pass a flooded area next to a garbage dump on our way to Josephine Mungereti’s home. She is a homeowner who has been adversely affected by recurrent flooding. This time, however, the water has made her family move out of the house and into a single room just in front of her house, which is on higher ground.
There is a car in the compound that was sitting in water. All the seats are wet and the paint is peeling off. The car has not started since the flooding.
Deluge of floodwater
Her house is musty. Like Ms Mbogo’s furniture, some of her sofas are piled atop one another. Her daughter is trying her best to make their house get back in shape, but she is afraid the rains will unleash another deluge of floodwater.
“Nature is unstoppable, you know… ” says her daughter, who sought anonymity.
We step out of the house to assess the damage caused by the latest rainfall and the sewage.
“You see there (the daughter points to a sort of kitchen garden), we had planted some crops, but they all died because of the recurrent flooding,” she says.
The surviving crops are bananas and a few sugarcane stems in the backyard.
“My house is not habitable because of raw sewage and the compound is pathetic. We have actually moved out of our house. We do not know where to get help. Please advise who we can talk to,” Mrs Mungereti had written in an email after the area first got flooded.
In a subsequent email, she said; “The whole compound is filled with sewage, we are using gumboots. The plot is ours, so we can’t move out.”
Mr Simon Wanjau Mwangi owns a shop just a few metres from Mrs Mungereti’s home.
When the deluge came, he was torn between saving his household items and saving the stock in his shop. That morning at 4am, he opted for the stock.
“I went to the shop, only to find most of the items soaked in water. I was disappointed. The loss amounts to about Sh16,000. Going back to my house, my motorbike, which I forgot to save when I was running to the shop, had been immersed in water. To date, it cannot move. I have not found time to repair it yet,” narrates Mr Mwangi.
His neighbours Regina Nzisa and Robi Nyasia whom we find having a light banter in front of their houses say they do not like the rain.
“When we hear the sound of the rain, sleep goes away. The first instinct is to switch off the electricity mains. We have to have gumboots; our children have gumboots. They help us move around when the flooding comes,” Ms Nzisa says.
“We even see mudfish right here, but we don’t cook them. We can’t eat sewage fish,” she adds.
Mr Stanley Mwenda, who runs a local clinic, cum chemist – one that Ms Mbogo and several residents visit – says he has had an increased number of patients since the flooding.
“Cold is what is really affecting the children aged below five. Most of them are also crying about painful and running stomachs. In a day, I attend to at least seven children complaining of stomach aches,” the chemist says.
He attributes the rise in the ailments to their weak systems, which were not yet fully adapted to the adverse conditions.
“You know you can tell a child not to go play next to the sewage, but being a child, he/she will simply jump into the water puddles and get infected while playing in it,” he added.
Ms Jacinta Njeri has been a Kiuu resident since 1979, when she built her house. She too, like her neighbours, blames the Kiambu County Government for opening the dams during heavy rains.
“When the rains come, the dams, Kibubuti, Kiamumbi and Makiu are opened and water flows all the way to our homes. Like this round, water, sewage, faeces, I don’t know where it came from. Even one grandmother came and fell and broke her arm after stepping on the slimy water,” she says.
The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company tried to unclog the drainage and cover the sewer inspection chamber. However, the sewage still stands. The stench is unbearable.
Dr David Mwenda, a public health officer based in Roysambu, says there is a risk of an increase in diarrhoeal diseases and cholera, typhoid and amoeba due to the contaminated environment.
The stagnated water should be decontaminated using chlorine to kill the pathogens, he says.
“The chlorine can be either granules or solution-based… The other option would be to have sewage tankers exhaust their houses. The entire community needs to be sanitised to keep their hygiene levels high.”
The health expert explains that the cold water could cause a skin condition called flaking, which makes layers of the skin peel off. With most of the residents walking in the affected water without protective shoes such as gumboot, Dr Mwenda cautions that bilharzia is also a risk, in addition to colds and fever, which he says affects small children, confirming what the chemist has noted in the past three weeks.
Kiambu County Public Health Officer Samuel Mureithi had said he was not aware of the flooding and advised residents to report the matter to the Githurai District Office’s Public Health department.
It is almost two weeks since the flooding, and nothing has been done.
“They can also go to the local dispensary and report the matter, then I can get details from the facility and be able to do something about the matter. For now, all they need to do is go and report the matter first,” he insists.
The Kiambu County Government denied opening the dams during heavy rains.
“Those stories are baseless. They are not true. How can the county be responsible for opening dams when they are, in fact, not in charge of the dams? The dams are managed by the national government and not the county government,” said Mr Francis Wambugu, the Kiambu County communications officer.
Attempts to get an interview with Nairobi Water were futile, with the questions sent by the Nation to the company remaining unanswered by the time of going to print.
No government entity is taking responsibility to right the wrong, as the affected residents hope that the government will act speedily to end their perpetual agony.
Every rainy season, they are displaced by the rain water, but this year’s nasty surprise in the name of the sewage makes the situation especially dire.