Concern as Lamu spews raw waste into the Indian Ocean

One of the pipes that spew sewage directly into the Indian Ocean in Lamu island.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

It is early morning and fishermen have just returned from the deep sea after a night of fishing.

They are busy paddling their canoes towards the eager fishmongers at the Lamu Old Town seafront, while nearby, coxswains anchor their luxurious speed boats waiting for passengers.

But this beautiful view of the sunrise over the Indian Ocean is interrupted by a stench of raw effluent that finds its way from the island’s buildings into the sea and pollutes the surroundings.

For many years, the marine surroundings of Lamu Old Town have been affected by the emptying of raw sewage from the buildings.

Strolling on the seafront during low tides, one can easily spot several sewage pipes penetrating through the seawall that discharge waste directly into the sea water.

Huge piles of garbage washed ashore in the historic town are also visible in parts of the beaches.

Despite several centuries of existence, Lamu Old Town lacks a sewage treatment system and divert all its raw waste to the sea, putting human and marine life at risk.

National Environment Management Authority (Nema) Director James Kamula revealed the existence of at least eight huge pipes that have spewed sewage directly into the Indian Ocean for many years.

Mr Kamula blamed the defunct municipal council for turning the sea into a dumpsite where almost all the key buildings in the old town were approved to join their exit sewer pipes to storm drains that empty rainwater into the sea.

According to Mr Kamula, this has polluted the marine environment and beaches and waters in the archipelago are affected.

As a result, tourists cannot swim there anymore.

One possible solution, he said, is to manage wastewater more effectively by building a sewer system.

“The old administration ensured all the buildings' sewerage drainage connections within Lamu town were directed to the Indian Ocean.

That’s why almost 80 percent of the houses here are discharging their raw wastewater directly into the sea. This is environmentally dangerous,” said Mr Kamula.

A new sewer system would help “but the challenge is that there is no space available for construction. Alternatively, it can be constructed behind the town but that will require pumping the wastewater upstream, which is very costly to operate in the long term.”

To minimise the problem, he said, Nemay has introduced mitigation measures, including directing all developers and owners of new buildings in the town to construct septic tank-soak pit systems.

He said this is because redesigning the sewerage systems of old buildings is nearly impossible.

Lamu Municipality Manager Omar Famau admitted that the general sanitation coverage in the devolved unit was wanting.

Mr Famau said discussions on how to deal with sewage discharge in places like Lamu town have been made and recommendations made.

“Wastewater management has for centuries been a key challenge in Lamu. That’s why we came up with the Lamu Municipality

Management Policy Paper that proposes various steps to be taken to address these challenges comprehensively. We expect to implement it in the coming financial year,” he said.

Lamu Marine Forum Conservation Group chair Mohamed Athman said discharges of raw sewage into the ocean has undermined socio-economic activities, including fishing and tourism.

He noted that sewage contains bacteria and other microbes that can cause diseases and imbalances in marine systems, especially for people who come into contact with the water or species that live in the sea by eating infected fish.

“Discharging raw sewage, domestic trash and other waste into the sea is pollution. That’s why the ocean water in most of the areas of

Lamu town and adjacent islands appear brown or green, instead of blue,” he said.

“If something isn’t done, our people here will lose their health and productivity. This will also affect tourism and cause a dwindling of fish stocks. That means Lamu might lose most of the benefits it gets from the sea in terms of food and tourism attractions.”

Fatma Rashid, an environmental activist, blamed both the former and incumbent Lamu County administration for failure to fulfill their promises on dealing with and ending the problem of improper wastewater and solid waste disposal across the archipelago.

“Since devolution started in 2013, our governors have always promised to deal with these challenges and completely solve them but up to now, nothing has been done,” Ms Rashid said.

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