Protecting environment critical to safeguarding our health

Nairobi River filled with effluent and trash from upstream as seen in Kibra in September 2019. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

As Kenyans, we are increasingly disconnecting from the basics of life. We have purposed to abuse and neglect something as crucial as the natural environment that gives us life.

Maintenance of the complex natural ecosystem we are a part of determines our health, quality of life and ultimate survival. Despite being cognizant of this, with reckless abandon, greed and indifference, we have embarked on a destructive journey of destroying our environment.

Majority of neighbourhoods, particularly in urban areas have become wastelands and breeding grounds for deadly diseases such as cholera, malaria, asthma and typhoid because of our cruelty towards the natural environment. The very ground that grows the food we eat has become a dumpsite for raw sewage, garbage and industrial effluent.

A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health revealed that over half of Kenya’s population is at risk of dying from deadly diseases. 75 percent of these diseases are caused by poor sanitation and irresponsible waste disposal.

It is also estimated that 17,000 Kenyan children are needlessly dying each year from diseases related to poor sanitation and inappropriate waste management.  Another study conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme revealed that that most of the common chronic diseases such as pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and cardiovascular problems are all caused by air pollution.

Everyone wants to leave in a clean neighbourhood but no one wants to bear responsibility for keeping it clean. Most of us are guilty of littering, causing pollution and failing to speak out or take action against entities that are polluting our waters and air.

For instance, in Nairobi, it’s no secret that poorly disposed waste from affluent and middle-class neighbourhoods washes up onto the streets and rivers running through informal settlements like Kibera and Majengo.

Its undisputable that the government bears responsibility of improving the quality of life her citizens, but we must each accept personal responsibility for maintaining a clean and safe environment for our sake.

Indifference to our surroundings has emboldened corporate entities to pollute the air we breathe and defect from their corporate legal responsibility not to cause harm to the environment and its inhabitants. For as long as we boldly litter, pollute public waters and fail to speak out against harmful practices, our health will suffer and our children continue dying.

When Wangari Mathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she had our future in mind. In her lifetime, she managed to plant over 50 million trees and inspire others to join the cause. But despite that incredible achievement, Wangari Mathai’s work cantered on human development. She envisioned a society shaped by social values, community empowerment, and collective decision-making for a sustainable livelihood.

We ought to keep this legacy alive by adopting an attitude of collective responsibility towards one another and the environment. It is not only ideological but also practical since we cannot achieve anything without good health.

If we are to safeguard our health and that of our children, we must act together. Our neighbourhoods will not magically clean themselves unless we actively refrain from littering and clean up our mess. 

The quality of air will not improve unless we take measures to protect our green spaces and plant more trees. Corporate entities will not stop harming our health unless we rise up and speak out.

Our physical and mental health is at stake; we must save ourselves.

-Ms Benyawa is a journalist. [email protected]

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