Nairobi, 14 July 2021 – UN-Habitat and the Kenyan Government signed an agreement that would provide United Nations technical expertise in a variety of multi-year projects to reclaim and renovate several kilometres of the river system in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The Nairobi River Life project, part of the broader Nairobi River Regeneration Initiative, is a joint flagship initiative of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and UN-Habitat aimed at reclaiming Nairobi River as a shared public asset. UN-Habitat will provide the technical expertise to restore the river system and prioritise the riverfront development.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif and the NMS Director General Mohammed Badi at the capital’s John Michuki Memorial Park.

The ceremony was witnessed by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation, Sicily Kanini Kariuki, Kenya`s Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat, Amb. Jean Kimani, as well as officials from the Kenya Forest Service, National Environment Management Authority, Water Resources Authority and other officials.

“The project is a unique opportunity to kick-start citywide urban regeneration, transform informal settlements, create sustainable jobs and build urban safety and security,” the UN-Habitat Executive Director stated in her opening remarks. 

“I believe in top-bottom. I also believe in bottom-up and convergence of ideas in the middle. If there is only top-bottom, bottom-up won’t work. If there is only bottom-up, there is no leadership,” she added.

The NMS Director General said the Nairobi river system suffers from dumping of human, medical and industrial waste that is negatively affectively the quality of services and ground water provided local people.

“The resulting environmental degradation and public health impact leads to high mortality and morbidity, poor school attendance and performance,” he said. “Delivery of safe and adequate sanitation services in Nairobi need sustainable measures to protect the natural environment, including river corridors.”

Initial community-led projects around Nairobi River started in 2016 and in 2019 UN-Habitat initiated support for efforts by community-led and local non-governmental organisations.

The Nairobi River Life provides opportunities for regenerating inner city neighbourhoods such as the wider Eastlands area, supporting local economies, providing alternative connectivity through a network of green and public spaces and a safe network of walkways and bicycle paths, managing storm water, and creating water reservoirs and water parks.

The signing ceremony was capped with the Changing Faces Competition (CFC) award, an annual award winning initiative, sponsored by UN-Habitat, aimed at mobilizing youth teams to take responsibility for managing public spaces around them to find the cleanest, greenest and safest spaces.

This year’s competition saw the participation of 114 teams representing more than 1,000 young people from across Nairobi. They were then evaluated by an independent jury including NMS, Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), Women in Real Estate (WIRE), Planning Systems, Agence Française de Développement (AFD) among others who made site visits to evaluate the teams’ work.

This year’s eight awards were given for projects on: Best community champion; Special Award for consistency; Most Resilient Team; Best Newcomer Effort; Courtyards Challenge; Playgrounds Challenge (Child Friendly Space); The Nairobi River Challenge; as well as an Overall Winner of the Changing Faces Competition Edition 5, given to the Kamukunji Environmental and Conservation Community.