Special Report for #closedumpsites: Kenya's Dandora Dumpsite - a Health and Environmental Tragedy

This report has been prepared by Professor Jared Onyari (pictured left), Environmental Impact Assessment Lead Expert and President of Kenya Environment and Waste Management Association. In it, he describes the very serious situation which is devastating the lives of so many people living nearby.

14 Nov 2017 -


The Dumpsite

Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya in the Embakasi sub county. Surrounding neighborhoods called estates include Kariobangi, Baba Dogo, Gitare Marigo and Korogocho and the waste is serviced by a dumpsite which sprawls over 30 acres. It was established in 1977, with partial financing from the World Bank in order to offer a higher standard of housing.


It is Nairobi's principal dumping site and the Oxygenation Ponds, a prominent feature on satellite imagery of the area, is Nairobi's main sewage treatment works, and discharges processed water into the Nairobi River. Dandora is divided into 5 phases. The dumpsite is one of the key reasons for the high crime levels in the region. The dumpsite is an environmental hazard. The burning of the waste during the night can cause severe respiratory issues. Houses nearing the site are filled with smoke making it hard to breathe.

It did not take long before it became a dumpsite for Nairobi’s industrial and domestic waste. Dandora is one of Africa’s well know slum recognized for its poverty, hunger, illiteracy, pollution, rape, and high mortality rates.


It is recognized that some of the key health issues in the region are caused by the dumping of toxic waste. Every day, more than 2,000 metric tonnes of waste are dumped on this site. 

The inhabitants have very low income or no income and large families, of up to five children, are the norm. Many of these children go with only one meal for three days and with such amount of hunger they go through, they can eat anything, even dangerous and harmful foods from the dumpsites.


Solid waste is carelessly dumped and has led to rising environmental problems. All kinds of filthy and untreated waste are found there ranging from sanitary pads to syringes, plastics, rubber, lead based paints, slippers and many other toxic chemicals. Due to the overload of the rubbish a lot of it is deposited and ends up in the Nairobi River which passes through Dandora. This pollutes the water and makes it poisonous. Children, men and women bathe and drink this water contaminated with germs, dirt and bacteria and that is very poisonous for their health and wellbeing. Since Dandora has no adequate sewage system, a lot of the sewage consisting of faeces and urine end up in the river creating health and environmental risks. When this water is used for irrigation by other people down the river, the urine seeps into the soil and kills the plants because of their uric acid. 


The garbage is a mountainous heap and is constantly burnt. The acidic fumes of Sulphur, lead and other heavy metals not only cause serious air pollution and acid rain but the noxious fumes also affects the respiratory system of the inhabitants. The children are more vulnerable to the air pollution because of their weak lungs and tender body structure.


As a result of all this pollution, children suffer from skin diseases, abdominal pains and eye infections and dental problems.


All of this happens just Kilometres from the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi


By 2001 it was deemed full and yet it continues to operate, and people at the very bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder come here as their last hope to make a living from scavenging the waste, but in the same time exposing themselves to tremendous pollution. This case is a very accurate example of the environmental injustice which I refer to as environmental racism whereby the poor societies of Nairobi are impacted by waste dumped from the whole greater Nairobi region, and are polluted with toxins. Yet, it is explained as the best solution for all because the poor get food from there and scavenge for materials to sell to the recyclers. Dumping in Dandora is unrestricted and includes industrial, agricultural, domestic and medical waste.


Unofficial studies have confirmed the presence of dangerous elements such as lead, mercury and cadmium which are serious hazards. Due to the underdevelopment of scientific bodies in Kenya, but also to political clashes, popular epidemiology has been used to prove sickness and mortality in Dandora. No official study or statistics have been undertaken, therefore the lay knowledge is as valid as the official one here and can be considered street science.


Nairobi is a capital with significant international connections, hosing the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP); therefore it seems strange for the biggest environmental organization would to neglect this environmental catastrophe happening just 8 km from its headquarters. UNEP has commissioned a couple of studies showing dangerously high levels of heavy metals in the surrounding environment and in the body of local residents. Lead and cadmium levels were 13,500 ppm and 1,058 ppm respectively, compared to the action levels in the Netherlands of 150 ppm/5ppm for these heavy metals. The Stockholm Convention on hazardous pollution, which Kenya has ratified, requires actions aimed at eliminating these pollutants. The promise to act was agreed by the government, interested stakeholders and the civil society. Many global Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have called upon Kenyan government representatives and stakeholders to honour the integrity of the Convention and keep the promise of reduction and elimination of those pollutants. Unfortunately, as of now, nothing has been done. On the contrary, more and more waste is addressed to the landfill and more and more is being permanently burned, more toxic substances leaching to the waters and air.


The Nairobi River also passes by the dumpsite, worsening the situation. The Dandora dumpsite is a sad picture of a multiple tragedy. The City Council of Nairobi decommissioned the dumpsite in 2012, after 8 years of planning. However, conflict between the council and the Kenya Airports Authority over the relocation of the dumpsite to Ruai has brought the process to a grinding halt. The community sees no easy end to this largest and most flagrant violations to human right and environmental health in the country. The dumpsite exists in contravention of several provisions to the Constitution of Kenya.


The social dilemma


Upon my most recent visit to the dumpsite I discovered the local community and thousands of people rely their daily income on the dumpsite. Every day, scores of people scavenge through the contaminated garbage to look for food, plastic and metal scraps to sell to recyclers. They get paid very little but still enough to stay around the dumpsite. Some kids even escape school to come to the dumpsite to work. Due to high poverty in the area, some parents even encourage their children to go to “Mukuru” as they call the dumpsite. While some critics will defend the habit, it is a disastrous short term solution to a larger, complex and longer social and economic problem.

Public participation must be at the core of the decommissioning of this environmental and social injustice. A coalition formed under the “Inter-Religious Committee Against Dandora Dumpsite” in conjunction with national human rights institutions was set up in 2005 to address the problem of exploited workers and social problems but then later in 2008 its demands were supported thanks to the studies commissioned by UNEP and other organizations showing the serious environment problem. So here we have an example of a local resistance being mobilized due to the social injustice later also adopted from an academic context.


The local communities understood they must be participants in the change process and that the advocacy and the struggle for a people’s liberation must be spearheaded by the people themselves.

The Committee's main slogans were: “The society equally needs to be endowed with adequate environmental etiquette. We should ensure that our own little neighbourhoods are clean. Other stakeholders therefore need to come up with suggestions which can help us surmount this danger of the dumpsite”. The Committee has put forward a number of proposals to solve the problem. It included closing the dumpsite, re-cultivation, relocation of waste management, proper recycling facilities. Unfortunately, the developments of those ideas seems to be dead due to financial and political reasons.


The Real Health Impacts


The Dandora dumpsite continues to pose environmental and health risks. The dumpsite is a big, big health problem and it has had a terrible impact on the environment, because the unrestricted dumping of domestic, industrial, hospital and agricultural waste at the city’s main dumping site,” It is also a cause for concern as the land cannot be used for domestic and agricultural use.


The studies which have been carried revealed that soil samples collected from the site recorded high levels of lead compared with reference standards in the Netherlands and Taiwan. Similar.

findings were reported for other metals. The tests conducted on 328 children and adolescents living and attending school near the dumpsite revealed a significant health impact, with 154 suffering respiratory problems. When the waste is burnt, toxic gases are formed and it is very noxious.  Many of them have suffering from respiratory abnormalities, many have blocked airways.  


According to the study by UNEP, medical records obtained from the Catholic Church dispensary at Kariobangi showed that 9,121 people were treated for respiratory tract-related problems in 2003-2006. Cases of skin disorders, abdominal problems and eye infections are also common among those tested. Malaria could be another threat since blocked drains collected water and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.


The Inhabitants of the dumpsite

There are a few inhabitants who try and conserve it. Some try and collect materials that can be recycled from the dumpsite such as glass, rubber, plastic, aluminium and they separate them and they earn an income through this.


Have any actions already been taken?

The locals have done very little to help the dumpsite except recycling for income. The few actions that have taken place are that few recycling plants have been set up and the Nairobi city county by laws is trying to ensure proper waste disposal.


How does Kenyan Law protect the environment and eco-system?


a)  No person shall operate a wastes disposal site or plant without a licence issued by the Authority.

b)  Every person whose activities generate wastes shall employ measures essential to minimize wastes through treatment, reclamation and recycling.


The next steps for the inhabitants and locals?

The Dandora dumpsite if full and the inhabitants of Dandora need to decide find a new dumpsite.


Before the garbage is dumped in the dumpsite, they should separate the garbage into recyclable products, biodegradable products and non-biodegradable products. The recyclable products should be separated and be taken to recycling plants, the biodegradable should be kept together to form a massive compost heap and the non-recyclable or biodegradable products should be burnt in an incinerator and this way the dumpsite will be cleared and the amount of air pollution will be much more less. The government should also be able to provide workshops for the illiterate and teach them how to look after the environment and their own personal health. The government should also sensitize the inhabitants about the mental, physical, and health effects of the dumpsite. By doing this more jobs will be provided which leads to an economic growth.


This Article References:

Barczak, P. of European Environmental Bureau (2017). Dandora Landfill in Nairobi, Kenya | EJ Atlas. [online] Environmental Justice Atlas. Available at:

Further Reading: section VII number 87; Page 8 section 2.3.1 




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