Business

Floods bring blessing for youth harvesting metals from Nairobi River for resale

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Eric Randere's story is unusual, given that while heavy rains and floods wreak havoc in many parts of the country, he has found a reason to celebrate.

Eric Randere, a resident of Mlango Kubwa, Nairobi, spends each waking day harvesting metals from the Nairobi River for resale, work he has been doing for the last four years after failing to find a job.

Eric's story is unusual, given that while heavy rains and floods wreak havoc in many parts of the country, he has found a reason to celebrate as the increased water flow improves his chances of finding the metals.

He was introduced to this work by a friend who was killed by floodwaters several months ago; they worked at the Gikomba shoe market, where they believed the metal yield was most abundant.

Every morning, the 26-year-old ventures into the flooded river around Gikomba, armed with a large magnet affixed to a stick. With precision, he plunges the magnet into the water, hoping to catch as many metallic treasures as possible.

Eric Randere, a resident of Mlango Kubwa, Nairobi, harvests metals from the Nairobi River on May 7, 2024. (Photo: Abdirahman Khalif)

Eric says his earnings were low before the floods but that there has been an improvement. All the same, he notes, he finds satisfaction in his work as he no longer needs employment.

The entrepreneur acknowledges the severe distress brought about by the heavy rain but says it has been a catalyst for his success.

"I know the floods are not good, but for me, they are a blessing as they bring more metals," he said.

"Whatever I get is enough," he told The Eastleigh Voice, noting that he harvests up to 30 kilogrammes of metal a day, and sells each for about Sh50, depending on the quality. A copper metal goes for up to Sh800 per kilogramme, he says.

Eric Randere, a resident of Mlango Kubwa, Nairobi, displays metals he harvested from the Nairobi River in this picture taken on May 7, 2024. (Photo: Abdirahman Khalif)

Eric's clients are metal buyers in Dandora, Nairobi, whom he said take the items to Mombasa County for resale.

"The least I make in a day is Sh600–Sh700, depending on the number of hours I work," he said, adding that this is enough to support his family and that he sometimes has extra to send to his sick mother.

Despite the financial gains, Eric notes that he is not blind to the dangers of the business, including the risk of getting into rivers without proper gear.

"Sometimes the river bed changes. You might leave a safe spot one day and find a hole there the next day," he says.

Metals that Eric Randere, a resident of the Mlango Kubwa area of Nairobi, harvested from the Nairobi River, in this picture taken on May 7, 2024. (Photo: Abdirahman Khalif)

Another challenge is the threat of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which Eric says he has suffered from several times. He adds that several of his friends have been swept away by stormwater, never to be found.

Nevertheless, Eric remains determined, viewing his job as a practical and sustainable means of subsistence.

He says he is not alone in this business, as approximately 10 youths join him in harvesting metals from the Gikomba area every day.

For Eric and others, the benefits outweigh the risks and challenges they face, so for as long as the river flows, they will harvest metals for sale.

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