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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Living amidst the rubbish of Kenya's slum
As the United Nations gathers to discuss anti-poverty measures, the BBC News website assesses how Africa could meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 10 years' time. Here, Gray Phombeah looks at life in a Kenyan slum.

Young girl in Kibera
Kibera residents say nothing has been done to improve conditions

"This one room is my bedroom, my kitchen, my sitting room," says 67-year-old Jared Odhiambo.

"My eight children, my wife and I sleep here."

This is the story of Kibera - the biggest, poorest slum in Africa - just outside the heart of Kenya's capital city, Nairobi.

The first thing that hits you here is this rich stench of almost 1 million people living in this ditch - in mud huts, with no sewage pipes, no roads, no water, no toilet, in fact, with no services of any kind.

I have been walking through stinking rubbish, glutinous mud and poisonous odours to see the abject poverty in the Kibera slum, the poverty which world leaders are supposed to address as part of the MDGs.

Hell on earth

"Our houses are collapsing," says Aloo John, Jared Odhiambo's neighbour in Kibera.

"We don't have toilets, so what we do is, we use paper bags and throw them out at night. If you are out at night and unlucky, you will feel something landing on your head, and that's somebody's human waste."

We want to do more than just converting their cardboard boxes into concrete boxes
Amos Kimunya
Kenya's lands minister
Irene Mula, a primary school drop-out, shares a room with seven members of her family, including her mother and father.

"Life is tough here," she says. "It's full of challenges, poverty and stress, that's what is all about here."

The Kibera misery is indeed awesome and painful to see - a vision of hell on earth.

Urban black hole

It dates back to 1920 when the British colonial government let a group of Nubian soldiers settle on a wooded hillside of Nairobi, with no title deeds.

From a few thousands residents, more and more people from different communities moved into Kibera over the years, seeking new life and shelter, but ending up in shacks, their dreams shattered.

Sewage and rubbish in Kibera
Kibera residents live next to raw sewage
More than 80 years later, and after three Kenyan administrations since independence in 1963, nothing has been done for these people.

It is here, in this urban black hole like many others around the world, where the success of the UN's goal to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 will be measured.

One man believes it can be done.

He is Amos Kimunya, Kenya's lands minister. Away from the stench and the despair of Kibera, he spoke of the Kenya government's commitment to providing better housing for Kibera residents.

"We have committed 500m shillings ($6.6m) in our current budget to sort out the lives of people living in Kibera."

"We want to do more than just converting their cardboard boxes into concrete boxes - what we want to do is a comprehensive programme of upgrading the slum beyond just putting up new houses.

"It's about improving the lives of the people, job opportunities, HIV/Aids prevention and protection, education facilities, playing grounds - and so it's a comprehensive upgrading of the slum."

Easy part

Mr Kimunya's optimism is echoed by Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the United Nations city agency UN-Habitat.

Her organisation is charged with the responsibility of making life better for slum dwellers around the world.

No one cares about us
Jared Odhiambo
Kibera resident
"For the past four years, we have been working with residents of Kibera," she says at the UN-Habitat headquarters located in, Gigiri, a posh leafy suburb of Nairobi.

"If you really want to benefit the poor, you have to spend time on what we call social organisation, otherwise you might upgrade the slum and people who have better incomes will come and take over.

"Indeed, it takes a long time and very little seems to be happening, but a lot has been happening in terms of preparations.

"Physical construction is actually the easiest part of it."

No hope

Back in Kibera - 600 acres of mud and filth, with a brown stream dribbling through the middle - Ms Tibaijuka's and Mr Kimunya's assurance that help is on the way sounds rather hollow.

"No one cares about us," says Jared Odhiambo.

"The government of President Mwai Kibaki does not care about poor people."

Aloo John agrees: "Right now, we don't have any hope. They had promised us a lot of things before but nothing happened."

One of the MDGs is to halve the number of people who suffer from extreme poverty. Another is to improve the lot of slum dwellers.

If anyone is going to address those development goals, Kibera seems to be the first place to start.


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