Archive for ‘Environment’

February 4, 2015

The Key to Unlocking this African Moment

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This is a crucial moment for Africa. At the opening Intergovernmental meeting on the Post 2015 framework in New York in January I was invited to share the voices of African people with those tasked with drafting the key documents for UN member states to agree in September. These documents will replace the Millennium Development Goals agreed by member states in 2000.

Together with my colleague and former volunteer Nancy Maina, we tried to stress the importance of African communities being part of the decisions that affect their lives.


Asking people what they need

I have been part of the Participate Research Initiative which did months of consultations with people across Africa (as well as South America and Asia), documenting the perspectives of ordinary people through a series of participatory research workshops.

When grassroots communities described their realities, they taught me that the development they envisioned is not the same as the development the majority of the world imagines they want. In their own narrative, the strongest message from communities is a deep desire to be given the ability to do it for themselves.

These people identified critical blockages standing between them and their ability to function. This catalogue ranged from feeling vulnerable and excluded based on social norms, legal and political discrimination, corruption, insecurity and crime, inadequate skills and lack of opportunities to own assets. Unlocking the African moment requires removal of these blockages.

So first of all, the new development framework mustn’t just ask, “what can I do for the people?” but also “what are the people doing?” and “how can we accompany them in their local development innovation?”

Shifting focus to the often-unrecognized people like volunteer groups, grassroots community led organizations and marginalized communities will be crucial to the success of any new and ambitious plan.

Name checking the volunteers
If all the volunteers in the world were put into one country, that country would be the 9th most populous country in the world. This is not always acknowledged so I was determined to set this straight when I was given the opportunity to speak on to the UN.

I explained that for every paid member of staff that the Red Cross has globally, they have 20 volunteers. Back in sub-Saharan Africa where I come from, that figure is even greater (the Red Cross and Red Crescent have 327 volunteers for every paid member of staff). At VSO , the numbers of national volunteers supplementing the work of international volunteers in education, livelihoods, business and health have also been growing significantly in the past 15 years.

We need to name check this vital group in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As Nancy said in her speech at the civil society forum on January 14th, both the Political Declaration and Means of Implementation Agreement that will sit alongside the Sustainable Development Goals, Targets and Indicators, must be just as sound and robust as the goals, targets and indicators we choose.

Volunteering is often the first step in people’s active participation in their communities and countries as evidenced in the inspiring 500 Ways initiative. With effective support and planning, we can mobilize the huge pool of skills, capacity and passion that volunteers have for the realization of the SDGs.

Shoulders to the wheel
Wrapping up the two day meeting, the co-facilitator, Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN Macharia Kamau, said that by September we need to have Heads of State coming to New York with real enthusiasm for this agenda. He called on us all to work together – civil society, government and academics – to tell the world why these are important and how they can be transformative. I, for one, am determined to put my shoulder to the wheel with my people so we can unlock the barriers to making this Africa’s moment.

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July 16, 2014

Understanding Solid Waste Data

Data Presentation by Isaac Muasa from Spatial Collective Ltd

Data Presentation by Isaac Muasa from Spatial Collective Ltd


One of the most common feature in Mathare is the large amount of uncollected garbage in the community. Spatial Collective Ltd, has been gathering data on solid waste management with assistance of the community and groups engaged in handling of solid waste.

Collection of data related to solid waste in urban areas especially in the informal settlement can be a complex affair. Garbage collection is big and territorial business in the informal settlements with some groups enjoying near monopoly in their zones.
Groups engaged in this business are both registered and unregistered while we have people handling garbage collection as a private business.

Spatial Collective Ltd, has been collecting data on solid waste from both residents and groups engaged in management of solid waste. Spatial Collective Ltd has managed to gather for the first time comprehensive data on solid waste management in Mathare Constituency. Change is the management of solid waste can be realized if the community, stakeholders and the Nairobi County government understand the situation.

Spatial Collective Ltd has started a series of forums to share the data with the groups, community and other stakeholders. Today (16/72014) was the first such meeting and 37 groups from Mathare participated in the forum. Currently 43 groups from Mathare Constituency are involved.
A platform to spearhead a clean community, “MTAA SAFI” been started, which will involves a multi-social media approach.

One can be part of the campaign by subscribing WhatsApp: +254 707482472; Facebook.com/Mtaasafi: http://www.mtaasafi.com. – Simon

March 6, 2014

Letter from Aliens to Earth

Alien SoundI was abducted by a ‘Aliens’ and taken to a higher ground in a floating spaceship and this is what they told me about earth’

“We come in peace to visit our dear lost cousins.  From our world which you refer to as Alien, we are told of our long lost cousins who disappeared into the space never to return. Our mission on earth is to discover how you are doing and how we can co-operate and sustain the entire universe. We are happy to note that after many years of wars amongst yourself, you have tried to make initiative to unite your countries through United Nations and regional trading blocs which is slowly forging a common understanding on human existence.

Our main mission is to alert you about the depleting ozone layer, greenhouse effects and its impact on your existence and future. We have noted with concern your appetite and greediness to harness natural resources. You extract more than you need and hence there is increased solid waste generated which you have no plans on how and where to dispose. You have ended up throwing more waste into the lakes, rivers, forests and oceans. What has been the impact of these actions? You are now witnessing unusual weather patterns in your planet. In our experience, nature has a way of cleaning itself and it does not forgive when it come to correcting wrong actions. Please our cousins, your own expert predicts that is nothing is done on time then one fourth of your species on earth will disappear by 2050.  We are happy, a few leaders like Al Gore from USA have tried to explain the impact and in 2007, you awarded him a Nobel Peace Prize in for his efforts in raising awareness on Climate Change. But are  acting to save your planet?

Experience from our culture shows that wars caused extinction and not development. We are aware during the First and Second World Wars some families lost a whole generation. You have invested so much in weaponry than in human development. In the year 2012/2013, according to your calendar, we noticed some increased human activity at a place you call China, which has increased its military budget allocation and we are equally concerned with high level of air pollution and we are disappointed. Wars and conflicts are almost in all corners of African countries from Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo to West Africa apart from the never ending conflict in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israel, while there is still no sight for a solution to the Afghanistan war. As your experienced cousins, we implore you to reconsider your investment priorities.

We advice that Earthlings should invest more in their own current and future development. Discovering Us (Aliens) will lead to disappointment which we are not sure whether you will be able to handle. This planet is blessed with enough resources for all. You don’t need to discover Us at the expense of human development.

When you launched Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the Alien Council decided that we shall come and visit you and celebrate the success together in 2015. We are disappointed despite advancement in technology the levels of disparities, diseases, extreme poverty and poor governance have continued with little progress worth showing. We have been made aware through our satellite imagery of earth some areas people asking for their human rights in Syria, Egypt and homosexuals are threatened with imprisonment and death threats. This is an unacceptable. A report from one of your own, Prof. Jeffery D. Sachs tells us that you are now moving towards Sustainable Development Goals. This is a good move since you are now focusing more on human development, investment and sustaining it. For now we shall postpone of our visit to earth until 2030 since there is nothing to celebrate. In Peace we Leave But We are Watching Your Every Move….” – Simon

February 26, 2014

Mathare Population Structure

statisticsIn the above age distribution chart for Mathare Constituency, I have tried to analyze  age based of the total area population as per 2009 Census and percentages from the latest CIA website; https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ke.html while the total population. (Next implication of poor CDF investment to Mathare population)

February 19, 2014

Mathare or Kibera?

Both places, Mathare and Kibera are a reflection of low income areas with overcrowding, lack of social amenities, high crime level, unemployment, teenage pregnancy cases, gender based violence and general lack of strong accountability and governance structures. Mathare a place of less than 3 Km sq has more than 200,000.

kiberaMathare and Kibera share four things in common. First both had quarry at stage in life. Second they neighbour some of the most rich neighbourhoods. Kibera has Karen while Mathare is to Muthaiga. Another interesting observation is that the too have golf courses nearby. Mathare is next to Muthaiga Golf Club and Kibera has Royal Golf Club. Major road road construction are going, across Kibera we have while Mathare has Thika Highway.

Despite all these abundance nearby there is imbalance in the investment made by civil society. Kibera attracts high profile attention and funding than Mathare. The slum upgrading in Kibera is just one of the example how huge investments have been made. One might argue that most of the land in Kibera is government owned and that is why is easy to carry out housing projects.

Poverty level in Kibera is more glaring compared with Mathare. From housing condition and to terrain the place is terrible. In Mathare people also suffer too but they ‘hide’ it wth smile and welcoming charm. So many research have been conducted in Mathare but very little has been used to transform people’s life?-Simon

February 7, 2014

Maps and Slums

mathareNairobi is home to more than 100 informal settlements with little basic social amenities of low standards. The most ‘famous’ slum in Nairobi is Kibera. This is a place with many NGOs activities than schools.

There is high presence of NGOs in Kebera plus the place being put on the world map courtesy of OpenStreet Map However the residents continue to live in usual conditions found in slums. However there is hope for Kibera unlike Mathare. If the Kibera slum upgrading is completed and the houses distributed fairly without corruption then we headed to good times. Slum Upgrading projects are better off if the development process is monitored by various stakeholders.

kibera

Looking at the informal settlement in http://www.openstreetmap.org , in Nairobi section one notice that some of the informal settlements mapped are, Mukuru, Kibera, Mathare, Baba Dogo, Korogocho among others. Amazingly, the most mapped slum in Nairobi is Mathare! Almost all schools, health facilities, disaster prone areas have been mapped in details and shared in the OpenStreetMap platform. But has this visibility translated into Mathare being a popular destination with donors compared with Kibera? And what could be impeding factors? (Next week Mathare and Kibera)- Simon

February 1, 2014

Slums and Nairobi Master Plan

I have had the opportunity of being engaged in consultative meetings regarding Nairobi Integrated Urban Master Plan (NIUPLAN) which my parents never did in 1973, this is was the last plan for Nairobi. The 1973 – 2000 master plan was developed and one of the most important issues I have noted was recognition of the urban poor, investment in provision of housing by the council and well equipped city with accessible social amenities like playing grounds and social halls.

In the meetings I have attend, lack of space and high population have been attributed to the break down in provision of services. Listening to various presenters, one easily concludes that the city has been running without master plan for 14 years while urban planning department never had experts and qualified staff to enforce some of the recommendations in the 1970 Nairobi Master Plan. During the 14 years period, Nairobi City went to the dogs. Parking spaces in some city estates were grabbed, sprawling of slums along major Nairobi river become coupled with forceful evictions, the once safe and City in the Sun paradise became Nairobbery.

Slums are not an issues. The current Nairobi master plan assumes that slums will just disappear. Listening to concerns of residents from Marurui, Thome, Kasarani and Mathare issues such as controlled development are never adhered to. In some residential areas such as Huruma, Kayole and Pangani it is common to find buildings with more than six storey without lifts.

Poor road net has greatly contributed to uncollected garbage lying in low income neighbourhoods with garbage collectors’ lorry unable to access inside these place hence continued accumulations on solid waste.

The Nairobi Master plan is a good to start in the right direction.

May 17, 2012

Why Map Urban Informal Settlement?

Informal settlements are generally ‘unrecognised’ in many urban settings. In years that have passed places like Mathare, Kibera and Mukuru were not visible on the net. With the advent of participatory mapping and Open Street Map platform, it became practical for communities that are hidden from rest of the world to be visible.

Open Street Map has now become the alternative to showing what most governmens would not want highlighted due to ‘policies’. My experience of mapping Mathare was filled with anxious moments and too many questions by the village elders. Elders in 2010 looked at mapping as a way of  demacating land and plot allocation and regulization.

Upon mapping mapping Mathare;  boundries and resource distribution in the community became evident and this was followed by meaningful discussions with how the community looks like and what is not there.

Local leaders, NGOs and community based groups were not left behind. The map has been become a source of inspiration and motivation to proper community development.  The disparities in allocation of resources by the politicians and local administration became evident and discussions ensued.

The power of people mapping their communities can no longer be ignored as it brings out the true picture of the community.

Thanks to Open Street Map, the underprivileged, invisible can now be corrected and made visible- Simon

February 3, 2012

Children Using Space

Creating good a conducive environment for all to enjoy is the most challenging aspect in slum like Mathare. There are always huge piles of uncollected solid waste, broken sewers, use, noise pollution, limited space for children to exercise their right to play, lack of social amenities for the youth, no social halls or club house for elderly to meet and discussion about their own issues.

Despite all these, people still live and survive against all odds. The limited space available is shared amongst different groups. Like Huruma Sports Ground host various Christian crusades but it has produced some good and international soccer players while at the same provides bulk of players for street soccer in the Kenyan team.

On the other hand Mathare river host various socioeconomic activities despite high levels of pollutions. Various youth groups have managed to reclaim riparian land along the river and started urban farming activities. The good thing abour urban farming is that the youth do not use polluted river for irrigation.

Children make use of any available space to exercise their right play not caring much danger associated. It is common to find children playing next to a garbage hip or beside the river. – Simon

January 27, 2012

Elections and Food Insecurity

Urban farming demonstration centre in Mathare funded by European Union

Mathare depends on mainly food transported from outside. This therefore means that if a small disruption occurs then outsider traders cannot access Mathare and sell their food. It also mean that people will not have enough food for survival.

Walking down the valley, there is very little efforts being put by either the government or NGOs to invest in food security. It is common knowledge that during the last election period, traders could not access market to sell their commodities. In one of the villages-Mathare 4B and Gitathuru in 2008, people resorted to breaking houses to steal food and not electronics equipments.

I remember when peace had return after post election violence many NGOs started initiative addressing food insecurity. Currently the most visible programmes on food security in Mathare is the one being led by COOPI where by vulnerable community members are given Kshs. 1500 for food per household. This has been going on close to one year.

Given that we are nearing elections in Kenya, it will be good for various actors to invest more on ensuring that there will be enough food in the market by exploring ways of creating community based silos to store food in vulnerable communities so as to avert food crises. Currently various parts of Rift Valley such Burnt Forest have bumper harvest on maize. From previous elections in Kenya, it is common knowledge that whenever we have elections, case of food insecurity has always been reported.

There can be no free and fair elections if people are hungry. Democracy and access to food and security will always go together. In urban centres it is even worse. Investing more in urban farming and food storage facilities would help avert previous cases of food insecurity before or after elections. – Simon

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