A tour along the course of Chania, a river that cuts through the bustling industrial Thika town, reveals a grim sight. Rubbish of all kinds wash down the sleepy Chania. The clearly visible waste comprise shoes, nets, hooks, napkins, and plastic loaded with fatal chemicals such as biphenyl and polystyrene. This poison is consumed by water species, and the hundreds of thousands of people downstream who rely on the river for drinking, thereby putting their health and lives at stake.
Multiple waste sources
The Chania receives, from multiple places around Thika town, poisonous waste of sewage, macro and mega plastic from landfills along river banks. Companies have sprung up along the river course. Investigations reveal that an underground sewerage company sends a mixture of raw waste into the river. We trace the sewerage pipe to Sigira Homes, an estate in Thika town.
Also accomplice to this are residential flats that line the river course, and a private sewerage company in an area called Ndome.
In the Majengo area in Thika, we follow a stream of sewage to the river. This is what we see.
River Chania originates from the Aberdare forest and drools through the heart of Thika town before forming Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park which cuts through Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park to the Southeast. The River originates in the Aberdare Range and flowing to the Tana River which empties into the Indian Ocean. The highly polluted Chania contributes a massive share of the waste poisoning Indian Ocean, seriously choking and threatening a miscellany of Marine Biodiversity.
Marine biodiversity is threatened by direct intake of plastic waste and through ingestion of poisonous chemicals which cause degradation of their biological functions. This is an understatement because there are other undiscovered adverse effects of plastic on marine life.
Chania ecosystem is home to 10 bird species according to Naturalis Biodiversity Center. It has some endangered species including elephants and buffalos according to the Aberdare Forest Management Plan (2010-2019). The Bird species of Chania include Hadada Ibis, Long-tailed Fiscal, Fan-tailed Grass bird, Buff-bellied Warbler, Bronzy Sunbird, Speke’s Weaver, Yellow-throated Long claw and Reich now’s Seedeater and Helmeted Guinea fowl.
We learn from IUCN a disturbing status of 45 species endemic to the Chania river ecosystem, three of which are most vulnerable victims of unceasing monstrosity-pollution and encroachment of riparian lands, thanks to false idols of economic growth characterized by buildings along river banks.
Read more from IUCN
Toxic ingestion of poisoned water and microplastic products by water species and entanglement in nets and hooks is not the only threat to Chania Bio-Diversity. The scavenging of riparian land along Chania is no lesser devil. The River Chania Ecosystem has gradually been stripped to bare barrenness.
Mbugua,30, is a resident of Thika. He claims that it’s been months since he last spotted hippos that would come out to graze by the banks of Chania river. The hippos of Chania only live in his memories. The sad resident fears that behemoth numbers have reduced due to river poisoning, loss of vegetation, and incessant noise from estates that are built along the river the banks.
In July 2019, News Moto reported that a hippopotamus was found dead at River Chania suspected to have died from water pollution coming from nearby Nanasigarage.
“A team from KWS, NEMA and the county environmental department have burned the carcass of the hippo that had died inside Chania River due to water pollution. Waste effluent from nearby companies and raw sewer from some residential houses can be seen flowing into the river.” Said Thika Town., as reported by News Moto.
This is corroborated by a tweet by CEO of Wildlife Direct Dr.Paula Kahumbu
“Today we (Kenya) burned the body of a hippo that died in the Chania River from pollution.”
The following month (Sept 2019), the Star reported that a Chinese National had been arrested for polluting river Chania.
“A multi-agency team arrested Lin Xian Hua, the proprietor of Benco Investment Ltd that makes tissue papers. The factory was closed down,” reported the Star. According to the Star, residents of Thika accused some factories in Gosheni, UTI and Munene of releasing raw sewage and toxic effluents into the river which they depend on for domestic use and irrigation.
My fixer leads me to a vegetable farm that has encroached the banks of Chania. There are many such vegetable farms along river banks. A farm boy in one of those farms revealed that fertilizers and pesticides are used on the farm, and when it pours, the chemicals wash down into the river. Across the other bank is the sprawling Del Monte farm. The, the deadly fertilizers used by the pineapple company ends into Chania through the process of soil erosion.
The investigations reveal that the union of destruction, each contributing its share of monstrosity against Chania river biodiversity is raw sewage from estates that are built along river banks, sewerage companies, chemical companies, vegetable farms, and industrial poisoning Del Monte pineapple farmland.
This observation of massive pollution on Chania river is backed by findings of Birdlife International in a 2017 report entitled ‘Demonstrating ecosystem service values in African through shared learning’.
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University of Nairobi: Pollution in Thika Assessment of community Based Awareness Perception
The sobering report revealed different levels of ecosystem services degradation from a densely populated Thika town that hosts many food and agricultural industries. The group saw that untreated effluents from domestic and industrial waste were increasingly deposited in the river.
Calls for intervention
Sizzling with wrath, scores of Thika residents have in recent months demonstrated and laid prostate decreeing the deposit of garbage by both the Sewerage company and some estates. The residents are disappointed by the indifference of the authorities towards their plea. It now remains to be seen when the impunity will end. In meantime, IUCN reveals the shocking reality of conservation status of species some of which are endemic to Chania.
In the Thika section of the Chania River, a reconnaissance by this author reveals inflows of waste-water, chemicals, raw sewage, as well as large amounts of solid waste including plastic bottles and bags.
It is evident thus that prolonged destructive human activity not only poses a grave danger to tens of bird and animal species of Chania and Ol Donyo Sabuk ecosystem but also to colossal ocean biodiversity. The polluted river eventually feeds into the Indian Ocean, a home to thousands of marine species including turtles and thousands of fish species. At the current rate of mindless sea plastic pollution, studies show that by 2050 there will be more plastic than the sum total of marine life in the sea, and much more adverse effects than science can predict.
Any intervention however small would mean but as there is absolutely none. The residents of Thika claim that whenever they raise the issue of Chania river pollution with NEMA, they make assurances that they would take action but as soon as they leave, the rogue factories resume operation and continue discharging raw sewage and lethal effluents.
This revelation is a clarion call to the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment, Kenya Wildlife Services, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and County Government of Kiambu to warm up so as to avert irreversible biodiversity decimating catastrophe. There is a need to close companies that discharge toxic effluents, and prosecute culprits, and bring down residential flats built along river banks, and create sustained public awareness for concerted efforts in combating river pollution.
The man-made calamity must be solved as we are staring at a permanent loss of IUCN red-alert Biodiversity endemic to the Chania ecosystem, loss of human lives, and increased climate change punishment.
This story has been produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation.