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Environmental Pollution in Kenya: Causes and Government Efforts to Combat It

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Pollution is the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects (Oxford Dictionary). My essay will cover the main causes of pollution in Kenya, specifically air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution. These causes will be sourced from governmental research as well as independent academic research. It will then review how effective the Kenyan government has been in tackling these sources. This research is important because pollution is detrimental to any country’s society and economy. Therefore, the governments and citizens of said countries must go out of their way to find the sources of the types of pollution affecting their countries and suggest effective ways of solving the same. This essay will highlight these sources of pollution and evaluate how effective the measures put up against them actually are. Previous research has been done on the same problem, from governmental research to independent researchers. Their research shall be referred to in the writing of this essay. My work will add value to the environmental bodies and organs who strive to curb pollution in Kenya. At the end of this paper, I anticipate that the Kenyan government will have done a lot to counteract pollution in Kenya but can do much more in the fight against pollution.

Causes of Environmental Pollution

Air Pollution

Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter (PM), or biological materials into the atmosphere that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the environment (Agbaire and Esiefarienrhe, 2009). The Kenyan government, through the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has flagged priority air pollutants under their Air Quality Regulations Act, 2014 in the second schedule. These include particulate matter, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, dioxins and furans, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons. They continue to state that these emissions result from extensive industrialization. They also flag domestic pollution through burning of fuels to provide heat and light (National Environment Management Authority, 2014). This conclusion is further supported by Mberu, B. and Muindi, K. who state that the construction boom especially in Nairobi add to pollution levels and go on to cite the research of the World Health Organization who report that the level of fine particulate matter in the country’s air in the densely populated areas such as Nairobi is 17 micrograms per cubic meter; this is 70% above the WHO recommended maximum (World Health Organisation,2017). They continue to state that residents of informal settlements also contribute to air degradation. They have limited access to electricity or liquefied petroleum gas and so primarily burn firewood, charcoal and kerosene. As a last-ditch effort some households burn plastic bags and containers when they can’t buy charcoal or kerosene. Burning these fuels releases pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide as well as particulate matter (Muindi, K. and Mberu, B., 2017).

Water Pollution

Water pollution is any chemical, physical or biological change in the quality of water that has a harmful effect on any living thing that lives in, uses or drinks it (Lenntech,2019). Kenyan waters are plagued by high concentration of heavy metals in the water. Research on Nairobi River by Egerton University has shown that this holds true. Water samples were taken twice during the dry month of June,2013 and twice during the wet season of November, 2013. The water temperature, potential of hydrogen, dissolved oxygen and dissolved solids were measured in situ. Determination of heavy metals presence such as lead or copper was carried out using spectroscopy techniques whereas incubation, reactor digestion, gravimetric, amino acid, sulfaver 4, diazotization and titration methods were used to determine the levels of biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids which included phosphate, sulphate, nitrite, fluorides and chlorides respectively. The range observed for pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, dissolved solids, chemical oxygen demand, biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, sulphate, fluoride, chloride, nitrite, phosphate, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, lead and chromium was 6.89-7.77, 18.3-25.0oC, 8.10-24.29 mg/L, 176-438 mg/L, 40-730 mg/L,10.93-25.26 mg /L, 131- 414 mg/L, 348-881μS/cm, 0- 68 mg/L, 0.39- 2.87 mg/L, 0.0142- 0.886 mg/L, 0.002- 0.55 mg/L,0.03-5.96 mg/L, 0.0974-3.1438 mg/L, 0.0092- 3.6843 mg/L, < 0.01- 0.1799 mg/L,< 0.005-0.0197 mg/L, < 0.05-0.4415 mg/L and < 0.02- 0.0846 mg/L respectively. The concentrations of cations and anions were found to be heavily dependent on the various activities taking place along the river with some pollutant concentrations being higher than the recommended WHO levels (Kibet, J., Kamau, G., Chebet, E. and Mbui, D., 2016). The research paper goes further on to state that although NEMA give industries regulations on how much to emit through pollution permits, the levels indicated show that these regulations are not followed and furthermore the residential units near the river have no such regulations hence freely dump wastes into the water.

Soil Pollution

Soil pollution is defined as the modification of soil features or of its chemical and biological balance, caused by the discharge of polluting substances (Floccia, M., Gisotti, G., Sanna, M., 1985) Kenya’s economic growth is dependent on agricultural production as it is a third world country whose exports are mainly primary products as 24.2% of the global domestic product was gained by the agricultural sector (World Bank, 2019). However, pollution goes in hand with growing population and economic activities. Soil contamination growing rampart now days, but it is not taken as of more concern like water and air pollution. Pollutants are mainly contributed by use of motor vehicles. Heavy metals such as chromium from paint, lead from acid accumulators, and mercury from stabilization system are some of the by-products of car valeting and will end up in soil and hence destroying the soil integrity (International Journal of Environmental Monitoring and Analysis, 2017). Uncontrolled use of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides also destroy the soil as the chemicals destroy top soil integrity. Hospital package materials and containers, used syringes and sharp needles, biowaste and pharmaceuticals are wastes released from hospitals. Other contaminants such as dioxins and furans and some toxic metals such as cadmium or manganese are released from incinerators. Kenya's hospitals generate approximately 10,000 tons of medical wastes per year. Industries also contribute to soil contamination as many industries such as smelting industries release uncontrolled wastes to the environment. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, production from agro-based industries such as coffee processing plants deposits excess agro-chemicals such as pesticides into the top soil and sub-soil (Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 2013). There also disposal of small firearms in the military camps, and cattle rustling in some places such as Samburu and Pokot thus the lead from the firearms contaminate the soil. (Koskei, S., Chen, Y. and Shi, W., 2017).

Measures Taken by the Kenyan Government to Curb Pollution

The Kenyan government has taken stringent measures to reduce the polluting of the country’s ecosystem as shown below:

The Air Quality Regulations Act of 2014

The Kenyan government, through the National Environment Management Authority has enacted the Air Quality Regulations Act in 2014 which highlights the priority air pollutants and strictly stipulates the amount of chemicals that industries can emit and goes on to declare the controlled areas such as Nairobi’s Industrial Area and gives an air quality management plan aimed at controlling and reducing the pollution (National Environment Management Authority, 2019).

Real-Time Air Pollution Monitoring

The United Nations Environment Programme developed and gave Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry Air Quality Monitoring equipment which will provide real time monitoring and thus form a basis for how to curb air pollution. Fifty units of these devices were handed to the ministry (Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 2019).

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The ‘Adopt-a-River’ Initiative

The National Environment Management Authority enacted this project, a national citizen-driven wetlands restoration project originally meant for Nairobi River but has progressed to other parts of the country. It entails mobilizing and empowering students and community-based youth groups and other interested institutions to address real sustainability challenges in Kenya. Each of the targeted group is expected to adopt a nearby river, monitor water pollution levels at designated points and undertake its restoration and conservation (National Environment Management Authority, 2019).

The Plastic Bag Ban

On August 28th 2017, the Kenyan Government banned any usage of plastic bags in an attempt to reduce the pollution of rivers by plastics (Kenya Gazzette,2017). They take anywhere between 20-1000 years to biodegrade hence the government of Kenya opted for the use of biodegradable bags.

The Kenya-Denmark Initiative

The Environment and Policy Management Component under the Natural Resource Management Programme (NRMP) supported the Government of Kenya in the implementation of the first medium-term plan (2008-2012) in relation to strategies and goals for environmental planning and governance. It supported key environmental bodies such as NEMA and aims at sustaining natural resources by developing renewable non-pollutive energy sources and so Denmark granted Kenya DKK 26.4 million which is approximately KSH 376.4 million.

The Effectiveness of the Kenyan Government in Curbing Pollution

To evaluate the effectiveness of the government in curbing pollution, the results of the policies implemented by the government must be observed. The Danish government granted Kenya approximately KSH 376.4 million to combat pollution and some of the money has been put to good use as it has been used to provide counties with street cleaners, real time air pollution detectors that detect source pollutants highlighted in the fourth schedule of NEMA’s Air Quality Regulations Act of 2014 and the money has also been used to fund environmental research studies in the country’s universities (Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 2017). Due to this Kenya has reduced the number of deaths due to air pollution from 30,000 per year in 2013 to 19,000 per year in 2016 and has fallen back to the safe zone of presence of particulate matter in the air (Business Daily, 2016). Nevertheless, some of the money has been embezzled by the country’s corrupt officials as 40% of the money went unaccounted for in an audit on government coffers (Ethics and Anti-Corruption Unit, 2017).

The plastic bag ban is quite a severe ban with fines of £31,000 or 4 -year imprisonment if found using a plastic bag (National Environment Management Authority, 2017). This ban has helped transform local waterways as the waters have been clearer and less animal deaths due to plastic asphyxiation have been reported. This comes as a relief as the intention of the ban is working (The Guardian, 2018). Nevertheless, it is slowly becoming ineffective as people are still reported to use them even after the ban and furthermore local suppliers bribe the city officials to turn a blind eye (Ethics and Anti-Corruption Unit, 2018). Nevertheless, even if the ban was to be 100% efficient it would not have helped as Kenyan waters suffer from heavy metal contamination which no plastic bag ban can solve.

NEMA’s ‘Adopt-a-River’ Initiative is arguably very ineffective as no results have been gotten from the initiative. There has been no significant change in water pollution levels since its inception thus has failed in its mission.

The Ministry of Agriculture recognizes the rising soil pollution levels and has devoted funds to research to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute so that they find efficient and eco-friendly methods to farm that will use less agro-chemicals on the soil (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute,2017). Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture has approached the Ministry of Health and Military contractors so that the disposal of medical supplies and lead firearms into the soil may stop (Worldwide Fund for Nature Kenya, 2018).


The Kenyan government has implemented several objective policies to combat the thriving pollution levels in the country. Some policies such as the Air Quality Regulations Act and launching real-time pollution devices have been highly effective whereas some policies like the plastic bag ban are short-term solutions. Other policies such as the Adopt-a-River initiative have borne no fruit. It is also evident that the government has been widely successful in tackling air pollution but needs to restrategize on how to tackle water pollution and soil pollution. It can therefore be concluded that to effectively tackle pollution as a whole, some resources used in curbing air pollution should be use to tackle water and soil pollution as the policies implemented against the same have been very ineffective.

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Environmental Pollution in Kenya: Causes and Government Efforts to Combat It. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from
“Environmental Pollution in Kenya: Causes and Government Efforts to Combat It.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
Environmental Pollution in Kenya: Causes and Government Efforts to Combat It. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Nov. 2023].
Environmental Pollution in Kenya: Causes and Government Efforts to Combat It [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Nov 30]. Available from:
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