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Tourist site stinks to high heaven

From Grace to Grass: Fourteen Falls at Kilimambogo, Thika East clogged by industrial waste and massive pollution of Athi River

Less than two years ago, Fourteen Falls was a famous water site that attracted visitors from across the globe. The falls in Kilimambogo, Thika East sub-county, once acted as a tourist hub that drew hundreds of local and foreigners who trooped the area daily to enjoy the exquisite view as well as its serenity.

However, heavy pollution of Athi River, where the site lies— with raw sewage and industrial effluent flowing downstream—  has made the once much-envied site a no-go-zone. When we visited the site recently, a pungent odour emanating from the black, murky waters could be smelt nearly a kilometre away.

Tour guides at the once famous wonder of nature site are the most affected by the pollution as it’s their only source of income. The escorts say factories located in Nairobi county are to blame for the toxic waste contaminating the river.

Fourteen Falls Youth Group led by their chairman, Peter Njoroge, says pollution of the river has rendered over 200 youths —who depended on the falls for income— jobless, as the number of tourists has significantly reduced. “Foreign tourists no longer visit this place,” he said.

Before the river got too dirty, the site used to receive more than 1,000 visitors daily and business was booming. “We now receive 50 guests or less and this has killed our business,” said Njoroge.

He said local tourists who include school children, students, church groups as well as corporates have stopped touring the site. “The odour from the water is choking and no one could stay here for more than an hour,” he noted. “Nyama choma parties and team building functions are no longer tenable. This site is now on its deathbed,” Njoroge declares.

Some of the residents who spoke to Travelwise said that water life has been cut short too as fishing activities on the river are now a thing of the past. “Barely two years ago we could fish, bath and drink the water. It was clean. Now it’s a health hazard to both residents and livestock,” said resident Joel Makau.

Divers and boat riders have not been spared either by the massive pollution at the falls. “I could pocket Sh300 a day from diving and boat riding but I now make Sh100 or go home empty-handed,” said Elvis King’ori.

Countless delegations by state officials have been made to the site but nothing has been done to avert the problem. Members of the Senate Environment Committee, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) officials and Water and Resources Management officials, among other state agencies, have toured the site but offered no solution.

Former Kiambu county governor William Kabogo and his deputy Gerald Githinji in 2013 launched a mission to clean the mess. They led a group of youths and well-wishers to start a clean-up exercise supposed to be held every month until the site reclaimed its lost glory, but the efforts soon petered out. 

Kabogo blamed residents of Githurai, Kahawa Sukari and Kahawa West estates in Nairobi of dumping waste on the river and its tributaries.

The residents and tour guides are now appealing to the Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos county governments to intervene and address the issue, saying that continued pollution will halt many activities along River Athi. Worse lives downstream are at risk. 

“All relevant authorities should come on board and offer solutions to this menace. Stern penalties should be taken against all factories and firms draining their waste and effluents into the river,” Njoroge said.

Residents living down the river at Maguguni, Ngoliba and some parts of Yatta in Machakos county said they depend on the water for domestic and agricultural use. They now fear their health is at risk.

“Sometimes our crops just dry up after we water them and we are worried about losing our livestock. This issue must be addressed by the relevant government bodies mandated to safeguard and protect the natural resources,” said resident Beatrice Mwende.

The Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Natural Resources led by an acting chairman who is also Kitui East MP, Mutua Muluvi visited the site to access the magnitude of the pollution and to get first-hand information from residents. The tour was prompted by a petition to Parliament by Yatta Member Francis Mwangangi who complained of the massive pollution of the river. Residents are waiting for the team’s report.

Athi River is an important source of water for residents of Kajiado, Nairobi, Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Tana River and Kilifi counties. In 2017, the government announced it was seeking Sh2.8 billion to clean the river.

The then Water Principal Secretary Fred Segor said the ministry was in the process of setting up a team of experts to develop a plan to guide the process. However, more than a year down the line, nothing has developed since this plan was hatched.

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