Nairobi is the world headquarters for both the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat), which are responsible for promoting green development, sustainable cities and adequate shelter for all. Yet these agencies’ presence hasn’t prevented the widespread pollution of the Nairobi River Basin or the growth of Kibera into the 2nd largest slum in Africa. More than one million people live in Kibera, crowded onto just 550 acres of land, most living in tin shacks without electricity or access to basic services like toilets and clean water.
The Kenyan government, UN Habitat and UNEP have developed ambitious plans to clean up the polluted Nairobi River Basin and restore its damaged ecosystem in order to improve the quality of life for city residents. There’s only one problem: about 127,000 people have settled there. Kibera residents live in uncertainty – they hear rumors that they may be forced out of their homes near the river any day, but they don’t know when it will happen.
Benson has lived near the banks of the Nairobi River in Kibera for 15 years. He runs a small kiosk and his 7 kids attend a neighborhood school. If the government evicts him, he will lose not only his home and all his possessions, but also his business and his children will no longer have access to education.
Benson’s fears are not unwarranted. In recent years, more than 20,000 Nairobi residents have been forcibly evicted from their homes, often with little advance notice. Their homes were demolished and they were left homeless, without compensation or relocation to other neighborhoods. In July 2009, the Kenyan government evicted more than 3,000 people living Githogoro Village and destroyed their homes. Left without shelter or assistance, many were forced to sleep out in the open by the ruins.
Why doesn’t the Kenyan government come to Kibera to explain the Nairobi River Basin project to its residents, inform them of the timeline for relocation, and help them move to alternative homes in other, less environmentally sensitive areas of the city? Isn’t that better than forcing them out and leaving them homeless without livelihoods?
Tell President Kibaki that the people of Kibera deserve dignity. The government should adopt eviction guidelines that respect human rights laws, hold genuine consultations with affected communities, identify alternatives to evictions and develop a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan.
By Ann Corbett, AIUSA Kenya Country Specialist