Nairobi City Development Strategy Top Priority for 21st Century Future of the Kenyan Capital

City of Nairobi Environment Outlook Charts Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable and Environment-Friendly Living

Nairobi, 17 April - A 'City Development Strategy using a bottom-up approach' to guide the planning of Nairobi is urgently needed to ensure that the Kenyan capital develops on an environmentally-friendly and sustainable path.

The central recommendation is made in a landmark draft report issued today. It has been compiled by the Nairobi City Council in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-HABITAT).

The City of Nairobi Environment Outlook provides the first comprehensive snapshot of the state of Nairobi at the turn of the century.

It is also accompanied by a series of wide-ranging recommendations on how to boost the quality of urban life for the Kenyan capital?s close to three million residents.

The draft Outlook, unveiled at the 21st session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council, says the City Council is pressing forward with urban improvements.

These include measures to reduce environmentally-related diseases, control pollution and beautify the city through landscaping and tree planting projects.

But the study acknowledges that the absence of a strategic plan in the 21st century is a key handicap with the current plan approved for Nairobi dating back to 1948.

As a result unplanned and piecemeal development, informal settlements, lack of sufficient sanitation, increasing pollution of water supplies, rising amounts of solid waste and traffic related fumes are currently all taking their toll on the health and wealth of the city.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "This report is a sobering assessment of a city in East Africa in the early 21st century facing, as so many urban areas do in developing countries, a significant array of challenges. Many of these are inextricably linked with poverty and the provision of basic services but also sound and sustainable planning".

"The report is by no means a counsel of despair and presents concrete choices and opportunities to put Nairobi on a more sustainable track. It therefore should be a source of inspiration for positive and coordinated action by central and local government, donor countries and the UN system, the business community, NGOs and citizens," he added.

Musikari Kombo, Minister of Local Government, said: ?The City of Nairobi Environmental Outlook Report has identified factors which impact negatively on our environment. The report has also proposed actions for which I expect the City Council to give due and timely attention?.

Dick Wathika, Mayor of Nairobi, added: "Nairobi lacks a comprehensive physical development plan and neither does it have an environmental policy addressing circumstances peculiar to the city. The formulation of these policy instruments would go a long way in addressing the issues identified in the Outlook Report, especially the poor quality human settlements, pollution and waste management".

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director UN-HABITAT and Director General UNON added, "Cities can achieve more sustainable land use if municipalities combine urban planning and development with environmental management. This can better be realised, however, if we also address the challenge of regional and metropolitan development and overcome the syndrome of competing jurisdictions. Our common quest, be it for economic growth, social justice, biodiversity or climate protection will depend to a large and increasing extent on our ability to manage our cities and the urbanisation process. The Global Environment Outlook for the city of Nairobi is an important step towards the preparation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy".

Highlights from the Report

Nairobi?s population has grown from an estimated 1.1 million in 1985 to around 3 million today with the numbers set to rise to about 3.8 million by 2015.

An estimated 44 per cent of the city?s population lives below the poverty line. By 2005, over 50 per cent of Nairobi's labour force worked in the informal sector with women key players in this sector.

"A number of things contribute towards poverty. Unemployment and underemployment, landlessness, climate variability, low education, inadequate sanitation, health facilities and clean water," says the report.

Land Cover

Growing population is increasingly putting pressure on land resources. The natural vegetation in the city area has been greatly modified and even the Nairobi National Park is being threatened. "Land use conflicts in the Kitengela area are now common," says the report.

Nairobi's ecological footprint,a measure of the city's demand for water, food and other natural resources, is estimated to be just over 30 times its physical area.

"While this may be low compared to cities elsewhere in the world, it still means that at current levels of economic production and consumption, the human load exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of the city," says the report.

Land Use and Land Use Planning and the Rise of Urban Agriculture

Informal settlements, haphazard patterns of development including over-concentration of employment in the Central Business District and industrial area, are leading to rising levels of traffic congestion and pollution.

The report also highlights a new phenomenon, namely that of urban agriculture which is estimated to be worth over three million dollars a year and which is often carried out by women as a 'survival strategy'.

The report argues that urgent action is needed to ensure that urban agriculture benefits rather than harms people and the economy.

Currently, many low-income farmers are blocking sewers to obtain water for irrigation increasing the risk of dirty water triggering a rise in the spread of diseases, chemical poisoning and other environmental problems.


The report says that addressing the housing issue will assume growing importance in city politics given the demand and the limited land availability in Nairobi.

It notes that a draft Housing Bill has been prepared that may address some of the issues. The report also details the location of informal settlements which pepper most divisions of Nairobi including Dagoretti; Kibera; Pumwani; Makadara and Kasarani.

Water and Sanitation

The report estimates that just under half of Nairobi's population is served by a formal sewerage system with studies showing that just over 66 per cent of all preventable diseases are linked with water, sanitation and poor hygiene.

Only about 42 per cent of households have proper water connections. In the slums of Kibera where the majority of residents live on less than a dollar a day, a 20-litre jerry-can may sell for 20 Kenyan shillings during time of water shortages.

Most water is supplied from surface waters which are in the main heavily polluted with contaminants such as agro-chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria and persistent organic pollutants.

The report notes that there is an increasing use of ground water which is of good quality but, if overexploited, could lead to subsidence problems.

The report points to Mexico City where over abstraction of ground water has led to that city sinking by more than 10 metres over the last seven decades.

Energy and Air Pollution

Over 80 per cent of urban household needs for energy are met by charcoal with Nairobi consuming around 91,000 tonnes annually, equal to 900,000 tonnes of wood.

Other air pollution comes from vehicles, industrial emissions and the open burning of waste. As a result, high levels of particles or particulates-- which are linked with breathing difficulties and heart problems-- are found across larges parts of the city especially in the north, south, central and eastern parts of Nairobi.

Solid Waste

"Nairobi is increasingly being faced with vast amounts of solid waste that are generated and dumped in the city untreated. This is partly due to the rapid population increase but also due to the unplanned development of informal business," says the report.

It notes that over 50 per cent of this waste is organic and thus offers an opportunity for livelihoods from composting. The organic waste could also be used for energy generation, for example rotting vegetation produces methane which can fuel electricity-generating turbines.

Way Forward

A 'strategic master plan' for the 'development of an integrated urban infrastructure system' should be drawn up by the city council in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government, relevant government agencies and other stakeholders.

The report underlines over 20 central elements that the master plan should cover. These range from re-use of waste water for urban farmers, a review of land use planning and laws and incentives for jobs and education in rural areas to stem migration to urban areas.

New initiatives on city housing that partner with the cooperative movement, community organizations and the private sector should also be part of the plan.

Other elements include a strategy to extend the sewerage network to all parts of Nairobi, methods for protecting streams and river banks, the establishment of waste separation centres, economic incentives to promote recycling and composting ad improved road access in slum areas to facilitate waste collection.

For more information please contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail: or Angele Luh, UNEP Information Officer for Africa on Tel: +254-20-7624292 or E-mail:

UNEP News Release 2007/12


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