Chania River Biodiversity under serious threat from pollution and encroachment

By Tom Mwiraria

  • River Chania, in Thika Kenya, is heavily polluted by sewage from underground sewage outlets and fertilizers from surrounding companies including Del Monte pineapple farm and Sigira Homes
  • The highly polluted Chania contributes a massive share of the waste poisoning Indian Ocean, seriously choking and threatening a miscellany of Marine Biodiversity

A tour along the course of Chania, a river that cuts through the bustling industrial Thika town, reveals a grim sight. Rubbish of all kinds washes down the sleepy Chania. The clearly visible waste comprises shoes, nets, hooks, napkins, and plastic loaded with fatal chemicals such as bisphenol and polystyrene. This poison is consumed by water species and the hundreds of thousands of people downstream who rely on the river for drinking, thereby putting their health and lives at stake.

The Chania receives, from multiple places around Thika town, poisonous waste of sewage, macro and mega plastic from landfills along river banks. Companies have sprung up along the river course. Investigations reveal that an underground sewerage company sends a mixture of waste into the river. We trace the sewerage pipes to some estates in Thika town.

Also, accomplices to this are residential flats that line the river course, and a private sewerage company.

In the Majengo area in Thika, we follow a stream of sewage to the river. This is what we see.

River Chania originates from the Aberdare forest and drools through the heart of Thika town before forming Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park which cuts through Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park to the Southeast. The River originates in the Aberdare Range and flowing to the Tana River which empties into the Indian Ocean. The highly polluted Chania contributes a massive share of the waste poisoning Indian Ocean, seriously choking and threatening a miscellany of Marine Biodiversity. Marine biodiversity is threatened by the direct intake of plastic waste and through ingestion of poisonous chemicals which cause degradation of their biological functions. This is an understatement because there are other undiscovered adverse effects of plastic on marine life.

Endangered Species

Chania ecosystem is home to 10 bird species according to Naturalis Biodiversity Center. It has some endangered species including elephants and buffalos according to the Aberdare Forest Management Plan (2010-2019). The Bird species of Chania include Hadada Ibis, Long-tailed Fiscal, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Buff-bellied Warbler, Bronzy Sunbird, Speke’s Weaver, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and Reichenow’s Seedeater and Helmeted Guineafowl.

We learn from  IUCN a disturbing status of 45 species endemic to the Chania river ecosystem, three of which are most vulnerable victims of unceasing monstrosity-pollution and encroachment of riparian lands, thanks to false idols of economic growth characterized by buildings along river banks.

IUCN:Hippopotamus amphibius IUCN Red List Status- Vulnerable

IUCN:Gray’s Monitor,IUCN Red list Status -Vulnerable 

IUCN: Leopard (Panthera Pardus`i=,IUCN Red List Alert-Vulnerable 

IUCN:Hippos, crocodiles and other freshwater megafauna threatened and ignored

IUCN:Wildlife in a changing world – IUCN PortalIUCN:National Wildlife Conservation Status Report 2015-2017

Toxic ingestion of poisoned water and microplastic products by water species and entanglement in nets and hooks is not the only threat to Chania Bio-Diversity. The scavenging of riparian land along Chania is no lesser devil. The River Chania Ecosystem has gradually been stripped to bare barrenness. 

Mbugua, 30, is a resident of Thika and claims that it’s been months since he last spotted hippos that would come out to graze by the banks of the Chania river. The hippos of Chania only live in his memories. The sad resident fears that behemoth numbers have reduced due to river poisoning, loss of vegetation, and incessant noise from estates built along the river’s banks.

In July 2019, News Moto reported that a hippopotamus was found dead at River Chania suspected to have died from water pollution coming from nearby Nanasigarage.

“A team from KWS, NEMA, and the county environmental department have burned the carcass of the hippo that had died inside Chania River due to water pollution. Waste effluent from nearby companies and raw sewer from some residential houses can be seen flowing into the river.” Said Thika Town.

This is corroborated by a tweet by the CEO of WildlifeDirect Dr.Paula Kahumbu

“Today we (Kenya) burned the body of a hippo that died in the Chania River from pollution.”

The following month ( Sept 2019), the Star reported that a Chinese national had been arrested for polluting the river Chania.

“A multi-agency team arrested Lin Xian Hua, the proprietor of Benco Investment Ltd that makes tissue papers. The factory was closed down,” reported the Star. According to the Star, residents of Thika accused some factories in Gosheni, UTI, and Munene of releasing raw sewage and toxic effluents into the river which they depend on for domestic use and irrigation. 

My fixer leads me to a vegetable farm that has encroached on the banks of Chania. There are many such vegetable farms along river banks. A farm boy in one of those farms revealed that fertilizers and pesticides are used on the farm, and when it pours, the chemicals wash down into the river. Across the other bank is the sprawling Del Monte farm. The deadly fertilizers used by the pineapple company end in Chania through the process of soil erosion. 

The investigations reveal that the union of destruction, each contributing its share of monstrosity against Chania river biodiversity is raw sewage from estates that are built along river banks, sewerage companies, chemical companies, vegetable farms, and industrial poisoning Del Monte pineapple farmland.

This observation of massive pollution on the Chania river is backed by findings of Birdlife International in a 2017 report entitled ‘Demonstrating ecosystem service values in African through shared learning’.  

Further Reading

People’s Daily Chinese investor charged with discharging raw waste into River Chania

The Star: Residents protest against disposal of sewage into River Chania

The Star: Raw sewage in Thika pollutes River Chania

Hivisasa: Gatuanyaga residents decry pollution of Chania River

University of Nairobi: Pollution in Thika Assessment of community Based Awareness Perception 

The sobering report revealed different levels of ecosystem services degradation from a densely populated Thika town that hosts many food and agricultural industries. The group saw that untreated effluents from domestic and industrial waste were increasingly deposited in the river. 

Sizzling with wrath, scores of Thika residents have in recent months demonstrated and laid prostate decreeing the deposit of garbage by both the Sewerage company and some estates. The residents are disappointed by the indifference of the authorities towards their plea. It now remains to be seen when the impunity will end. In meantime, IUCN reveals the shocking reality of the conservation status of species some of which are endemic to Chania.

In the Thika section of the Chania River, a reconnaissance by this author reveals inflows of wastewater, chemicals, raw sewage, as well as large amounts of solid waste including plastic bottles and bags.

It is evident thus that prolonged destructive human activity not only poses a grave danger to tens of bird and animal species of Chania and Ol Donyo Sabuk ecosystem but also to colossal ocean biodiversity. The polluted river eventually feeds into the Indian ocean, home to thousands of marine species including turtles and thousands of fish species. At the current rate of mindless sea plastic pollution, studies show that by 2050 there will be more plastic than the sum total of marine life in the sea, and much more adverse effects than science can predict. 

The residents of Thika claim that whenever they raise the issue of Chani river pollution with NEMA, they make assurances that they would take action but as soon as they leave, the rogue factories resume operation and continue discharging raw sewage and lethal effluents. 

NEMA responds 

Esther Mwita, an Officer at  NEMA, Incidences Management Unit says they did not know about this incident but acknowledged the concern.  

“We will collaborate with other departments such as the forest department, draw a  plan and  respond to the incident in a holistic manner, we, however, can’t promise the  response will be one time off,” noted Mwita further calling for “more information on the developments of this matter.”

This revelation is a clarion call to the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment, Kenya Wildlife Services, Kenya Forest Service (KFS), and County Government of Kiambu to warm up so as to avert irreversible biodiversity decimating catastrophe. There is a need to close companies that discharge toxic effluents, and prosecute culprits, and bring down residential flats built along river banks, and create sustained public awareness for concerted efforts in combating river pollution.

The man-made calamity must be solved as we are staring at a permanent loss of IUCN red-alert Biodiversity endemic to the Chania ecosystem, loss of human lives, and increased climate change punishment.

This story has been produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. It was first published on Mobile Journalism Africa.

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