A Safe Environment for Children’s Health

Constance Ndeleko


“I am Aisha from North Eastern Kenya and I am 14 years old. I come from a semi-arid region and I live in a traditional home called a Manyatta. Seven of us live in this small house which has no windows and a small door. It is made of cow dung and barely has a roof, meaning that it suffers from poor ventilation.

In order to breathe clean air I have to go outside. The main room serves as our kitchen, living space and bedroom, so we all inhale a lot of smoke. I have repeatedly suffered chest pains and have to regularly take herbs to assist with my health. We need a better home with clean air and privacy for my family,  but we cannot afford it.”

It is important for a country to invest in its children for they are the future. In February, my team and I visited several counties in Kenya to speak with children on the pillars of the Big Four Agenda launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta. These four pillars are are Affordable Housing, Food Security, Trade and Manufacturing and Universal Health Coverage. In discussing with children the key problem areas, the issue that came out strongly was air pollution, which has seen children hospitalized and in some cases, lose their lives as a result of toxic air.

13-year-old Amani stressed the impact of poor air, stating: “It is not healthy for children to live in an environment that is not conducive for their health and development. Coming from an area where hygiene is not a priority, every morning I have to brush my teeth at the drainage point. The sewage there exposes me to different diseases, and I have previously contracted cholera which resulted in hospitalization. The smell that comes from the drain means that you can’t stand there for more than a minute before feeling ill.”

Due to inadequate rubbish disposal in the informal settlements in Nairobi, playgrounds for children are littered with  rubbish. Children cannot withstand the smell or the filth in these areas, leaving them very little space to play.

“The planning of houses is not any better”, says Amon, 15 years old. ‘Six of us have to sleep in the same room in a house made of iron sheets. We are constantly exposed to poor ventilation. My mum has to cook with a jiko (cooking stove). Not only do we all have to breathe in smoke from the jiko, but also that which comes from the nearby factory. It has exposed most children to breathing problems such as asthma. We would love to be able to breathe in clean air that doesn’t endanger our lives.”

The increase in construction around urban settlements has also resulted in less safe spaces for playing, and house planning is creating an even greater ventilation challenge, as buildings are developed in compact and confined spaces.

There is a clear need for the society to listen to the views of children, especially on matters that affect them either directly or indirectly. They can be part of a solution and provide ideas for change. The next generation are at a pivotal moment where they can help change our environments for the better. Children should learn about environmental issues and have training sessions on how the society can thrive with cleaner air.

The Government and other partners such as NGOs can help out with measures that will substitute jikos and reduce the emission of toxic air from the factories. At the second Children’s Devolution Conference this week, children are bringing to the table the issue of air pollution and unhealthy living conditions. “We need to future proof our settlements to not only secure open spaces, but cleaner environments.”

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