Saving Mtopanga: Creating a Lasting Solution for Water Shortage in Mombasa County

Kenya hopes to achieve access to sustainable and clean water for all by 2030. This calls for robust efforts to conserve the available sources of water. Unfortunately, many rivers in Kenya, especially in urban centers, are in a poor state because of human activities, encroachment, poor waste management, and release of effluent wastes from the industrial sector; One of them being the Mtopanga River. With support from the Danish People’s Aid, the Civil Society Fund, KEWASNET embarked on a journey to document the pollution at the river and efforts to rehabilitate it.

River Mtopanga is located in Mombasa County. It stretches 5km from the hilly section of Kisauni to Jomo Kenyatta public beach, famously known as ‘pirates.’ Being that it is the main river in the mainland North, it can create a long-lasting remedy to the perennial shortage of water in Mombasa if cleaned and rehabilitated.

A section of River Mtopanga polluted with plastic and other types of waste

Founding of Mtopanga River Conservation CBO

The pollution of River Mtopanga and water shortage in Mombasa triggered Peter Mchombo and four other Mtopanga community residents to hold a meeting. They hoped that from the meeting, there would be a lasting solution to the water shortage and pollution of the river. Consequently, the Mtopanga River Conservation Community Based Organization was founded in September 2019. So far, they have made steps to pursue rehabilitation of the river; one of them is registering to be a member of the Kenya Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Civil Network (KEWASNET).

After attending the Sustainable Development Goal conference organized by KEWASNET early this year, we established how the rehabilitation of River Mtopanga could increase access to water for Mtopanga residents.  Later in July, we attended a training on Water Act organized by KEWASNET. Here, we learned the existing stakeholders in the water sector and the roles each play. Also, established the importance of not only partnering but also holding the duty bearers accountable’, said Peter.

(Speaking) Peter Mchombo, Chairman of Mtopanga CBO during the documentation

To strengthen the group’s capacity to achieve its mandate, KEWASNET visited the Mtopanga River in August 2020. The goal of the visit was to document the level of pollution, establish what the various stakeholders are doing to address the problem, and chant an inclusive and effective way forward.

Residents of Mtopanga  Continue to cry foul over their Neglected Pleas

Yusina Aidza has lived in Mtopanga for the 25 years. In her view, Mtopanga has lost its glory when compared to 25 years ago. Today, the face of the river is composed of domestic effluent, raw sewage, and many forms of solid waste.

Twenty years ago, River Mtopanga was very clean. Women and girls would fetch water for cooking, doing laundry, and other household chores. Today, because of pollution, we have to dig deeper into out pockets to buy clean water. Sadly, some poor households still use the water from the river for laundry and only purchase for cooking,’ said Aidza.

Some of the residents of Mtopanga passing through a section of the River

Various agencies concerned with conservation and waste management have announced plans to clean and rehabilitate the river for years.  Just recently, residents were told that a truck from a waste collection agency would be coming per week to collect the waste. That was not achieved. Consequently, they have now vowed not to be persuaded to vote in another leader unless the candidate has done something about the river.

We are keenly watching who is showing concern and making effort to clean and rehabilitate the river. We will not be fooled again into voting only for the leader to snub our main concern’, Aidza added.

Mama Aidza speaking on previous promises to clean the River Mtopanga

Corporal Beatrice Jerop, working with the Kenya Wildlife Service in Mombasa Marine park, speaks on how the Mtopanga river has been a challenge to the Marine Protected Area.

Since the river drains to the ocean, it brings effluents from uplands. This threatens marine life and the beach as a recreation area. Also, it reduces water quality. As a conservation agency, we tracked the waste uplands to the river and found it to be from the households. Also, we established that all the sewer lines in the area surrounding area are connected to the river. Thus, we identified that the community is not aware of the importance of the river and the impact of the waste on the MPA”, Corporal Jerop said.

Since identifying the problem, Corporal Jerop says that KWS has been holding regular cleanups in the ocean area to reduce waste levels. Also, they have implemented efforts to sensitize the community of conserving the river. However, from the environmental perspective, the ocean’s efforts are akin as long as pollution continues the upstream of the river.

Godfrey Nyongesa Nato, Mombasa County Executive in charge of environment, waste management, and energy, agree that Mtopanga River needs to be rehabilitated through a multi-agency approach since the problem is multifaceted. During a courtesy visit to his office in August 2020 by some of the members of the Mtopanga River Conservation CBO and KEWASNET staff, he explained that conservation of the river is among the priority areas for the country government.

The department of environment realized there is need to move in quickly. Our focus is many the solid waste and we set aside money in the financial 2020/2021 year to manage solid waste that finds itself into the river in the river so that it does not find itself into the river. We believe that we need to support the youth groups operating within the catchment of River Mtopanga so that the waste is managed and disposed in final official sites and involve other departments such as sanitation, and transport, infrastructure, and public works”, Mr. Nato remarked.

Action at Last

One week after the meeting between the CBO, KEWASNET, and Department of Environment in Mombasa, organized for a cleanup of the river to mark the World Clean-Up Day. It was agreed that there is a need to formulate a comprehensive plan to transform the river and its environs.

Clean Up exercise at River Mtopanga (Photo Courtesy)
Youths engaging in clean-up of the river (photo Courtesy)

The case of cleanup and conservation efforts of Mtopanga River shows the tremendous achievements that can be made if stakeholders in the water sector engage and act. More importantly, it demonstrates the positive possibilities of strengthening the capacities of CSOs and CBOs in the water sector. While there still a lot to be achieved, this is a step towards a positive direction where all water sources in Kenya are protected and conserved for a sustainable future.

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