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From Birdsongs to Bulldozers: The Human Cost of Nairobi’s Construction Boom


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From Birdsongs to Bulldozers: The Human Cost of Nairobi’s Construction Boom

It is 4:30 a.m. in Nairobi and all night the pregnant clouds obliged thanks to the climate change crisis that ushered the rain that descended indiscriminately disturbing the human rest sequence.  The clouds are dark, and the showers are unkind and unforgiving. The community where birds once kept tweeting when trees waved at each other in the area is no more. The cool breeze that helped share sweet-scented smells now bakes on the heat from the cruel iron sheets and no longer offers relief to the community.

The leaves are no longer present because power saw blades paved the way for the rulership of the concrete jungle by massacring the trees.  The crane has become our constant howling noise that replaced the rooster that used to wake us in the morning. Even when the chickens are awake, they no longer confirm who is still there and where they are located because of the level of noise pollution in the morning by the contractor’s crane. They cannot endure it; it is not for the faint-hearted. This noise sustains throughout the day and the chicken no longer wants to come out of the house to pasture because stones and dust have replaced the insects and leaves.

The construction site’s hammering and whipping of the environment has declared war against children. Tears well up in their eyes as mournful screams fill the houses when the construction clobbers their peace and their parents cannot shield them from the tycoon. The tycoon drives in a tinted V8 and only lowers his window while instructing the contractor. He is the real ‘gangster paradise’ who cares little for the environment. Yes, he was the only viable “public participation” for the approvals he managed to get because his pockets are full of taxpayers’ money, and bribing using public funds is public participation. Parents in frustration hide their tears as they roll down helplessly because they cannot understand how to deal with the ghosts of the tycoon.

During our estate meeting, Mama Amani shared how her children are always feeling fatigued and she just received a warning letter at work citing she is less productive and has been finding it hard to concentrate. Baba Baraka told us that 8-year-old Baraka got antidepressants because the doctor’s assessments diagnosed him with severe depression quickly getting angry and irritable. Mama Joy who is our estate treasurer has been to the hospital severally because Joy is suffering from panic attacks and has lost so much weight. Joy has been out of control during outbursts, feels less hungry than usual, and consistently feels nauseated. She struggles to sleep and wakes up in the night with bad dreams.

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One of the most silent members of the committee yelled, “The estate can now be officially renamed to Mental Health Crisis and Noise Pollution Estate”. While talking to a doctor who works in the city, she reported that they have registered increased cases of hearing loss among children. Upon investigation,  Mental Health Workers, on the other hand, are supporting more children struggling with sensitivity to sound. The loss of green spaces and trees has scientifically been positively linked to increased cases of mental illness, high mortality connected to cardiovascular, and increased lower-respiratory tract illnesses.

These construction sites are traumatizing and re-traumatizing populations in the city. We are making comfortable and normalizing high levels of internal stress among children as a way of life. Most children in the city feel unease and the environment evokes inner dread and a sense of meaninglessness. While trying to manage this, children and teens are “self-medicating” by turning to substance abuse as a way of escaping the pain of the tycoon and social cruelty. These are children and teens who are addicted to their excess flood tides of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. The El Nino floods are washing away hopes effortlessly without hesitancy because the stressed environment no longer hosts any vegetation. We continue to watch the heavenly tears of floodwaters carry away chronicles we once held dear, never realizing what corruption and violation of city plans are costing us. These construction sites are undermining our psychological and physiological health and family cohesion by interfering with healthy human development. We are creating and nurturing a hostile environment while ignoring the realities of our pains. Substance abuse in our cities among children and teens is about the vulnerable seeking relief and hope to manage the painful inner turmoil created by illegal construction approvals and the tycoon’s humiliation of human development.

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