Shelter at the cost of the environment
By Brian Osweta
As 35-year-old Patrick Shikuku recalls when he first moved to Mbuzi Mapembe area in Moroto, Tudor Ward, you might think it was yesterday, yet he has been here for more than 10 years.
Having left the village life up country, in search for greener pastures in Mombasa since 2008, Patrick says he found himself living in this area which was just a bushy thicket back then.
“When I came here, the area was very bushy, and we began to bring garbage to fill the area so as to create land for us to build on. There used to be just one or two houses, now it’s become a big village.” Says Patrick.
According to the Muungano wa Wanavijiji Alliance , what began as a small population in 1985, with most inhabitants working in nearby industries and beach resorts, Moroto has now expanded further downhill to boarder the sea as more and more people flock there seeking more affordable accommodation.
This has led to the locals inventing crude land reclamation methods to create land from the sea.
The latest Census results released in 2019, show that Mombasa County has a population of around 1.2 million people.
According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, about 44 percent of residents in the county live below the poverty line, with poor urban planning closely associated with the unchecked sprawl of densely populated informal settlements, which generally lack basic services.
Patrick says with more and more people flocking the area in search of accommodation, they opted to come up with a system that facilitates the selling and leasing of the newly created land.
“ As the boss, I negotiate with the buyer on the price of filling up the area up to the point when the piece of land will be ready for you to build.” Says Patrick.
“Filling up the are goes for about sh 10,000. However, if one had done a very good job it can even go for sh 20,000. Thereafter, we come into agreement in the presence of the village elder. It’s their choice whether to stay or rent the area.” He adds.
As one looks around that borders the ocean, one might mistake this as a dumping site, however, the garbage here plays a major role in the landfilling process, as Patrick explains.
“The garbage is used in filling up the ocean, if you decide to try dig, it will be a waste of time. The garbage is brought and dumped in one area and once it starts decomposing one can then use it to fill up an area to create land. Then you now put mud and then stones to finally have the peace of land ready.” Says Patrick.
When asked about the health risk of having all this garbage around him, all Patrick has to say is that “the ocean water is medicine itself.”
“ The ocean water kills all the maggots and trust me all germs are killed with this water, there is nothing to worry about.” He adds.
Impact on the surrounding environment.
With all this in perspective, one cannot help but wonder about the impact this has on the surrounding environment that consists mostly of mangrove trees.
Bosco Juma, a mangrove conservationist at Big ship, an organization that promotes sustainable development through empowerment of the community in environmental conversation in Mombasa, disagrees with Patrick, arguing that what they are doing is having a negative impact on the ocean and the surrounding environment.
“The issue of waste is not just a mixture of solid but also liquid waste and as per the international standard that makes it unhygienic and unhabitable area under the UN habitat. “Says Mr. Bosco.
He adds that it also affects the fish in the ocean, as some of the plastic bottles and plastic materials end up in the ocean, which affects the living organisms in the ocean.
“Sea turtles often eat transparent plastic bags because in the water they look like the jellyfish which they feed on. The plastics get trapped in their stomachs and they eventually die.” He adds.
Mr. Hajj Ramadhan, the leader of Shimanzi beach management unit (BMU) agrees with Mr. Bosco on this, saying that most of the time, they end up catching more waste than fish.
“When plastic bottles get entangled in the fishing lines, the work has to stop. You have to first deal with the trash and then continue fishing.” Says Mr. Hajji.
Also, according to Mr. Juma, the people who do land reclamation end up destroying the mangrove trees, which the ecosystem uses to fight the effects of climate change; like erosion and floods.
“The ecosystem and adaptation aspect of the trees is that it anchors the soil and protects the communities from sea waves, floods and cyclones. So when people keep on cutting those trees, they do not know that they are cutting down their protectors.” Says Mr. Juma.
The Kenya Forestry Service Coast Regional Commandant, Mr.Benjamin Were, says they are aware of the land reclamation that is ongoing and efforts are being made to curb it.
“Because the issue is touching wananchi, nowadays we are practicing what is called a human-based approach in our exercises. When they commit a crime, you must apply some humanity, so as KFS we are going round assessing the areas that have been encroached and creating sensitization in those areas.” Says Mr. Were.
He adds that aside from that, KFS is arresting people and charging them in courts, even as they liaise with the county governments in the region to help solve the crisis.
Efforts by the county government to solve the housing puzzle
In trying to solve the housing crisis in the county, the county government through its Mombasa Vision 2035 banner, plans to redevelop the old estates in Buxton, Changamwe, Likoni and Mzizima, to accommodate the ever-growing population.
Speaking at a function in Buxton, Lands Housing and Physical Planning Chief Officer, Dr. June Mwajuma, said the county government targets setting up 25,000 affordable houses all over the county.
“We know that people have different capabilities, for those who can do direct tenant purchases, we have a provision for that, but for those who may not have this ability, for different estates, we have brought in different banking institutions through the developer who can offer a soft mortgage.” Says Dr. June.
Phase 1 of the apartments in Buxton is expected to be ready by January 2022. A 1-bedroom apartment is set to go for sh. 1.8 M, 2-bedroom will go for sh. 3M and the 3-bedroom apartment will go for sh. 4.2
Meanwhile, Back in Mbuzi Mapembe area in Moroto slums where Patrick lives, I met the village elder, Mr. Ronald Ndegwa who highlights the demographic data of the area.
“This is an informal settlement area, those who live here are people who have low incomes. They just have temporary jobs like laborers, matatu drivers, roadside sellers.” Says Mr. Ndegwa.
As for Patrick, he says he is aware of the environmental impact of what they are doing, however, like the rest of the community that lives here they have no other alternative.
“I am well aware of the damage we are causing to the environment but we don’t have any other place to go to. If the government says there is a place that they have designated for us, that is affordable for us, we will gladly go.” Says Patrick.