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Nema flattens structures on river bank

More than 200 low cost houses and shops were on Saturday demolished at Balozi settlement in South B area as their owners watched helplessly.

The shacks and businesses were concentrated around a two-acre piece of land on the banks of the Ngong River, a tributary of Nairobi River, which pours into Athi River, with national Environmental Management Authority (Nema) officials saying the settlements contributed to polluting the river.

Mr Robert Olila, the chief enforcement officer at Nema, said demolition of structures built on river banks would continue in a bid to ensure rivers were protected.

“Our rivers are ecological zones and we will not watch while they get contaminated by structures built so close,” he said.

The law says that houses for human settlement should be at least six to 30 metres from a river bank but with a bulging population around the city, people have been grabbing such land and putting up houses and other rental structures.

At one point, traders who owned shops – mostly cargo containers converted into business premises – resisted the demolition.

But both plainclothes and uniformed administration police officers ensured order was restored and that the demolition continued uninterrupted.

Others made last-minute dashes into their tiny houses to pull out whatever property they could salvage, mostly clothes and utensils.

Mr Olila said removal of the structures would help clean up the Nairobi River, which has returned to its dirty, murky past.

Earlier, when Mr John Michuki was Environment Minister, he had successfully led efforts to clean up the river.

Meanwhile, there was a hue and cry over what the shack owners termed selective demolition of houses belonging to the poor, challenging Nema to bring down huge apartment blocks and other establishments that were built on riparian land.

“We want Nema to go for buildings where the wealthy live that are also built near rivers so that we can be assured there is fair treatment,” said one of the angry residents.

Another resident, Ms Lucy Safari, said they had been notified that the houses would be demolished the night before and, by the time the process of flattening them started the following morning, it was too late to salvage anything.

“I was only able to rescue my child and a few clothes,” said the 32-year-old Madrassa teacher.