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A standing woman shows an item to a woman who is seated in a waste dumping area
Nairobi, Kenya

Invisible Battles: The Health Impact of Air Pollution on Nairobi’s Street Families

As we force our way through the trash mounds towards a line of ramshackles edged on the west side of the Dandora dumpsite, an overwhelming and pungent scent lingers. The smell of rot and decay hangs heavy in the polluted air, engulfing the already smoke-filled dark cloud above Kenya’s largest open public dumping site, 5 kilometers east of the capital city of Nairobi.

Heavy smoke billows from the site on this chilly morning. We meet Margaret Nyokabi, aged 30, ready to report for work in the vast land fill, a routine for 15 years. Notably, Nyobaki has an improvised nose mask, a precaution she says protects her from inhaling “bitter and suffocating air’’ dominating the dumpsite and its environs. 

Covered in choking smoke and seemingly undeterred by the strong stench, she joins a group of 10 other women who are busy turning the waste upside down as if looking for a lost treasure. Oblivious of the potential health risks, Nyokabi and her colleagues hold the Dandora dumpsite dear to their hearts.

Woman and children on a waste dumping site
A woman and her children covered in smoke inside the Dandora dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya / Credit: James Wakibia.

"I have lived and worked here since I was 15. It is our home and employer," said Nyokabi who lives in a makeshift temporary structure made of polythene papers and cartons on the edges of the dumpsite.

For the majority of men and women living and working around the Dandora dumpsite, a backache, a recurring headache, an occasional nosebleed, a migraine, teary eyes, and a clogged chest are common occurrences, Nyokabi told The Mt Kenya Times.

Read the full story.

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in The Mt Kenya Times on October 25, 2024. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image:  A woman at the Dandora dumpsite takes a break from waste picking to buy a snack from a hawker / Credit: James Wakibia.