|Dandora receives about 2,000 tonnes of Nairobi’s rubbish every day [AFP]|
One of Africa’s largest rubbish dumps is harming the health of children living nearby and polluting the Kenyan capital Nairobi, according to a report from the UN.
The study, commissioned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), based in Nairobi, found that half of 328 children tested near the Dandora dump had amounts of lead in their blood exceeding internationally accepted levels.
Half the children tested were also suffering respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis and asthma as a result of exposure to pollutants, a statement from the UNEP said on Friday.
Located near slums in east Nairobi, the open dump receives about 2,000 tonnes of the city’s rubbish daily.
Al Jazeera’s Gladys Njoroge visited the site and found that while there was an inherent health risk for those living near it, Dandora also provided a valuable, if precarious, lifeline for many residents.
Source of income
Rorechi Achieng and her brother collect plastic bags from the dump. They wash them in the polluted river. And work at least eleven hours a day.
The 16-year-old Rorechi uses tiny specs of soap from discarded wrappers to clean plastic bags which she then sells.
It is already having an impact on her health. She says she has developed a cough since she began working on the dump 18 months ago.
Rorechi is not the only one trying to make a living out of the garbage dump.
For many of the residents here, it is their only source of income. But the health hazard is not only limited in one area, it flows further downstream with the Nairobi river.
A nearby clinic has treated more than 27,000 people for breathing problems in the last three years and UN researchers say they found high levels of lead in the blood of children here.
“What is most worrying in children is that it affects the development of the brain,” Njoroge Kimani, an environmental researcher, told Al Jazeera. “Thereby impairing neurophysochological development and the children have low IQ.”
“We have been witnessing an alarming situation regarding Dandora children’s health: asthma, anaemia and skin infections are by now endemic,” Kimani, who is also the UNEP report’s main author, said.
Uncontrolled dumps such as Dandora are not uncommon in the developing world.
“Since waste dumping is unrestricted and unmanaged, people are also at risk from contracting blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/Aids,” Kimeni said.
The UNEP statement said a quarter of all diseases affecting mankind were attributable to environmental risks, with children especially vulnerable.
About 4.7 million children under five die each year from environmentally related illnesses, it said, quoting World Health Organisation figures.
And 25 per cent of deaths in developing countries are linked to environmental factors.