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Henry Ndede standing in front of the Nairobi river dam

Henry Ndede: the Nairobi River Basin initiative

Henry Ndede is standing in front of a sea of green. Not a drop of water in sight. Yet this is the sailing club at the Nariobi river dam. It was built in 1950 and until a few years ago it was possible to sail and dive here.

Now the dam is clogged with water hyacinth and dotted with small islands of rubbish, washed down from the Kibera slum. The islands are so dense people use them for growing crops.

Ndede is the project leader for the Nairobi River Basin Initiative, funded by the United Nations Environment Programme.

His vision is to turn this lake back into a source of water for the residents of Nairobi. This water would not be for drinking, but for industry, irrigation, fire-fighting and car washing – all activities which currently use Nairobi’s clean drinking water supplies.

"Kenya is classified as a water scarce country," Ndede told BBC World Service.

"There is a third of the water that was available to people 30 years ago. In another 30 years it will be down to a third of current levels.

"The population is rising, and the catchment area for water is declining. Kenya now has just 1.7% of forest, far below the 10% recommended for any country.

"If we can improve the quality of our water we will improve productivity, reduce disease and health costs and see our economy improve."

Polluters identified

There is a long way to go but they have identified the polluters. Not just the Kibera slum, which has no proper sewage system, but local manufacturing industry and food processing, the breweries and pharmaceutical companies, all dump their waste in the Nairobi river.

Central to the plan is the conversion of the dam into a properly constructed artificial wetland, with reed beds and plants that can absorb impurities and cleanse the water.

The initiative is also about helping people to understand that the pollution of the rivers here in Nairobi, near their source, has a dramatic effect on people down stream, all the way to Mombasa and the coast.

Related website:
The Nairobi River Basin Project
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Listen to the radio series:
Solutions parts 1-4

BBC World Service Online spoke to Henry Ndede in February 2003
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