Environmental Injustices excessively affect Marginalized Communities living in Urban Areas

On 6th October, in Mwakirunge landfill, Haki Yetu hosted the Environment and Land Court of Mombasa. The forum that brought together members of the Mombasa Environment and Land Court users Committee including the National Land Commission (NLC) & Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) was graced by two judges of the Environment and Land Court, County Executive Committee Member for Environment and Solid Waste Management and his chief officer, County Executive Committee Member for Water, Natural Resources and Climate Change Resilience. It created a platform to highlight the plight of the residents of Mwakirunge.

Mwakirunge was illegally converted into a dumping site sometime in the year 2007 or thereabout. Prior to this, the dumpsite was first located in Marimani in 2002. In 2007, the Municipal Government met with the community to inform them of their decision to relocate the dumpsite to Mwakirunge on the grounds of land disputes in Marimani. The community recalled vividly that the dumpsite was relocated without the relevant authorities conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment. Another memory that is still fresh in their minds is the promise that was made by the then government during the 2007 meeting: the construction of a fence around the site to control access to the disposal site.

The Mwakirunge landfill is a home to about 400 people while the neighbouring village contains another 200. This population includes street children who are often in search of food waste. It has also been a generator of employment for many youths and street children. Conversely, the dumpsite has led to the increase of children dropping out from schools.

Most residents complained of toxic emissions coming from the dumpsite thus the continued use of the said land as a dumpsite infringes on their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment. For many years, the government has turned a deaf ear to the problems facing the people of Mwakirunge. The residents therefore brought their case before the Environment and Land Court in 2022 which declared that the operation of the dumpsite is illegal thereby ordering the County Government of Mombasa to stop disposing waste. It was however said that despite an Environment and Land court ordering the county government to stop dumping waste in 2022, the government continues with the illegal dumping.

The dump site at Mwakirunge is a health hazard as is evidently illustrated in the picture. Unfortunately, the County Government do not seem to be in a hurry to close the site.

During the Mombasa ELC CUC visit, the affected residents voiced their frustrations and reminded the Minister for Environment and Solid Waste Management that the government continues to delay the process of fencing the site. According to them, the County government is not doing enough to address their concerns. They asked why, despite court orders, the government has not begun the construction of a temporary wall on the dumpsite.

“When it rains, we can’t walk properly as it can become very slippery. When we wake up, we are welcomed with a sight of smoke which affects us during the day because the smoke has chemicals that affect our respiratory system and so we ask: how did we wrong God? Said a resident living in the landfill.

“People have been burnt to death in the landfill. We have attended public participation meetings likeCIDPs but the government does not keep its word. They allocate budget for the clearance of the waste but to date we have not seen changes.” said another resident.

The ELC presiding judge Hon. Justice Stephen Kibunja and Chairperson of the Mombasa ELC Court Users Committee together with Hon. Justice Naikuni took the community through the mandate of ELC. Justice Kibunja highlighted the best practices of protecting environment and had this to say:

“Every day, human activities generate waste. These if not properly and appropriately disposed, cause serious environmental and health challenges. Environmental pollution and climate injustice is attributed to poor waste disposal systems.”

Justice Stephen Kibunja of Environment & Land Court

“When someone is affected by exposure to toxic emission found in the environment, an injustice is being committed. People become victims of health problems. As a result, citizens do not share the same access to a healthy environment.” said Justice Naikuni.

Justice Lucas Naikuni of the Mombasa Environment & Land Court

According to the Deputy Governor, H.E Hon. Francis Thoya, the County Government in partnership with the residents formed a community environmental committee that will spearhead the construction of the wall. He also said that the government commenced the removal of the waste since it came into power.

However, one resident said: “since the government has not fenced the site, illegal dumping in Mwakirunge will not stop even if the government is clearing the current waste. Clearing the waste is not a permanent solution.”

The Deputy governor of Mombasa explaining to the residents the progress of the government’s intervention.

It was also noted that apart from the promise of 2007, the previous administration in the FY 2017/ 2018 also promised to construct a perimeter wall and invest in recycling technology. However, none of these promises have been fulfilled and the residents of Mwakirunge therefore do not trust the current administration.

Due to the ongoing rain and therefore very bad road condition, it was not possible for the participants to reach the dumpsite by car. The tents for the meeting were put up close to the site and a field visit was undertaken by foot, in a quite slippery manner.

“You have all had a difficult time coming to Mwakirunge because our roads are very poor. It is very painful when it rains. You have all seen it for yourselves.” A resident said.

The path ahead

Securing temporary shelter in the dumpsite is not only a reason why the residents of Mwakirunge continue living in the site but the site is also a source of income for many of them.

Living in garbage despite the right to live in dignity.

The government speaks of development and providing affordable housing but the mother of all development has to be clean and adequate environment in our habitats. The people of Mwakirunge living in the landfill and areas adjacent to the landfill are in dire need of clean homes, clean air and clean environment. The County government must be committed to its promises and be accountable to the residents of Mwakirunge and strive for equal protection from pollution and other environmental threats. It is commitment that will win the trust of Mwakirunge community.

Author: Munira Ali

Lands Programme Officer- Land & Urban Development

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