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Imara Daima residents petition Nema over strange smell

Mary Wanjiru is in a dilemma.

Her dream house is fast turning into a health hazard that could be a death trap for her and her family.

The house, in Gated Imara Gardens, Nairobi, which she bought in 2014, ticked all the right boxes.

Proximity to her children’s school, her church and the railway station sees her avoid the legendary traffic on Mombasa Road.

“There is this strange smell. On some days it smells like cooking gas and other times it smells like motor vehicles exhaust fumes,” she says.

This strange smell is strongest at night and has adverse effects on members of her household.

“My children wake up with headaches, dry and painful throats, painful ears, watery and irritated eyes,” she says.

The smell keeps her awake at night, unable to sleep and is strongest in the early morning hours.

REACHED OUT TO NEIGHBOURS

Baffled at this development, she reached out to her neighbours.

The neighbours from the nearby Oakpark and Imara Daima confirmed her observations, saying that the smell came and went but noted that in the last few months it had become more frequent.

Betty (not her real name) said, “I have lived in Imara Daima for close to eight years now. The gaseous vapour was previously released on rare occasions.

“For the last three years the frequency has increased especially in the last few months.

The fumes build up on Fridays through to Sunday morning when they are strongest.

“When the gas is released at night as we sleep we are woken up by the smell.

“Everyone in the house wakes up with a blocked nose.

“My daughter has been suffering from allergies for the last two years with itching ears and nose.

“We have since given up seeing ENT doctors because as soon as she is through taking the medication it starts over again,” she says.

FEELING NAUSEATED

The resident also complained of other symptoms for which they blame the strange, pungent gas.

“I wake up feeling nauseated, having a blocked nose and a tingling, irritated, peeling skin, compelling me to seek medical attention.

“I have been seeing doctors for five months now for the nausea which is persistent and have so far not had any diagnosis,” Betty says.

She contacted the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the body she thought would provide them a solution but her inquiries did not bear any fruit.

“I was told investigators had been sent to assess the situation, but as they came during the day, they did not find anything and asked me to call their hotlines whenever the smell was detected,” she said.

The hotlines listed on Nema’s website would prove useless as they went unanswered at the residents’ hour of need.

The petition to Nema
The petition to Nema

Betty’s husband explains his frustration,“ Two or three years ago, my wife lodged a written complaint at the NEMA office. After some 3 months, one afternoon the NEMA complaints committee comprising of some University professors, a researcher, a pastor and a public representative came to “handle the complaint”.

“All they did was come to the house, look around and ask us where we thought the pollution was coming from!! Like really? ?? Never heard from them since!

“I reckon they just wanted to fill in their statistics regarding the number of complaints the committee has looked into,” he said.

To get a solution to the problem, Mary conceived the idea of a WhatsApp group for the residents to share in their experiences.

“We are woken up by a most awful smell at 4am Sunday, feeling nauseated and disoriented, nose blocked, with the most awful air enveloping every corner of your house”, one resident shared on the messaging platform.

From the collective responses, it became apparent that a factory was dumping poisonous gases.

But no one could tell which one. The Estates are surrounded by industries and factories whose environmental practises cannot be authenticated.

Bringing together residents of Imara Daima, Muimara, Amara Park, Oak Park, Imara Gardens and Sunrise Park under the Imara Daima Estate Association (IDEA), the residents’ association representing over 20,000 people, seeking answers, once again contacted Nema.

Job Mwangi, the association’s communication officer said that they reached out to Nema in January this year.

NEMA INVESTIGATING

“Nema said they had received the same complaints from other people and were investigating.

“To date, they have not told us where the fumes are coming from and what we can do about it,” he said.

“They said they had contracted an independent company to look into the matter. They have been at it since January 2015,” he said.

Antony Ngare, Nema’s communication officer confirmed receipt of the residents’ complaints and asked for time to get the get the issue resolved.

He also confirmed that the hotlines are only manned from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

IDEA marshalled its members to sign a petition to compel the body to shed light on the issue as they are facing a myriad of allergic and respiratory problems whose cause has not been established and therefore they cannot seek appropriate palliative care.

The residents do not feel optimistic that NEMA is not giving their complaint the attention it deserves.

“We were not the first to complain yet they did not address the matter. Other organisations like the Red Cross and E A Tarpaulins had lodged complaints and had NEMA contract SGS to carry out tests,” Mwangi said.

They have also contacted Embakasi South MP Irshadali Mohamed Sumra, who promised to get a senior Nema official to address the complaints.

For Wanjiru, this cannot come soon enough.

“Where shall I go? It is my house. If I leased it to a tenant, what would I tell them? That I am moving away from being poisoned while I sleep and now it is their turn?”