Kenya: waste dump poses health hazard to children, UN agency warns

5 October 2007

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today warned that a large waste dump located in Kenya is posing a serious threat to children living nearby and pledged its assistance to help reduce the hazard.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today warned that a large waste dump located in Kenya is posing a serious threat to children living nearby and pledged its assistance to help reduce the hazard.

Citing the results of a study it commissioned of 328 children up to the age of 18 around the Dandora Municipal Dumping Site, the agency said half had concentrations of lead in their blood exceeding internationally accepted levels, while 42 per cent of soil samples recorded lead levels almost 10 times higher than what is considered unpolluted soil. Almost half of the children tested were suffering from respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis and asthma.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the results were worse than expected. “We had anticipated some tough and worrisome findings, but the actual results are even more shocking than we had imagined at the outset,” he said.

He also drew broader conclusions about problems of waste management in poor countries. “The Dandora site may pose some special challenges for the city of Nairobi and Kenya as a nation. But it is also a mirror to the condition of rubbish sites across many parts of Africa and other urban centres of the developing world.”

Mr. Steiner said UNEP stands ready to assist the local and national authorities in the search for improved waste management systems and strategies including ones that generate sustainable and healthier jobs in the waste-handling and recycling sectors.

The 30-acre large Dandora dumping site receives 2,000 tonnes of rubbish every day, including plastics, rubber and lead paint treated wood, generated by some 4.5 million people living in the Kenyan capital. The study also found evidence of the presence of hazardous waste, such as chemical and hospital waste, on the dumpsite.

Every day, scores of people, including children, from the nearby slums and low-income residential areas use the dump to find food, recyclables and other valuables they can sell as a source of income, at the same time inhaling the noxious fumes from routine waste burning and methane fires, UNEP said.

“We have been witnessing an alarming situation regarding Dandora children's health: asthma, anaemia and skin infections are by now endemic. These abnormalities are linked to the environment around the dumping site, and are exacerbated by poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition. Since waste dumping is unrestricted and unmanaged, people are also at risk from contracting blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS,” said Njoroge Kimani, principal investigator and author of the report.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), a quarter of all diseases affecting humankind are attributable to environmental risks with children more vulnerable than adults. Among children under age five, environmentally-related illnesses are responsible for more than 4.7 million deaths annually. Twenty-five per cent of deaths in developing countries are related to environmental factors, compared with 17 per cent of deaths in the developed world.

“The children of Dandora, Kenya, Africa and the world deserve better than this. We can no longer afford rubbish solutions to the waste management crisis faced in far too many cities, especially in the developing world,” said Mr. Steiner.

 

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