Kenya explosion: Govt was warned

2011-09-15 08:55

Nairobi - The Kenyan government was repeatedly warned about the dangers of people living on top of a gasoline pipeline that leaked fuel and exploded days ago, killing 95 people, experts said on Wednesday.

Families living in Kenya's slums are vulnerable to explosions, electrocution, fires, poisoning and other disasters because politicians anxious for votes won't enforce city codes, they said.

The three largest slums in the capital of Nairobi - home to over 500 000 people - are located on land unsuitable for human habitation, according to 2008 research by the University of Nairobi, said Peter M Ngau, a professor in the department of urban and regional planning at the university.

The report, which was presented to government, had warned that the Sinai slum was built on top of a gasoline pipeline and a sewer leading from the industrial centre. On Monday the pipeline burst a gasket, gushing gasoline into the sewer, where it ignited as hundreds of slum residents were fetching it, according to those who survived the fire.

The death toll from the disaster rose to 95 on Wednesday as more people died of their injuries, said Pamela Indiaka, an official with the Kenya Red Cross. One person died on Tuesday night and six people died on Wednesday in the hospital, she said. Another body was also recovered from a river which cuts across the slum.

More than 100 people were hospitalised with burns.

"It's just disasters waiting to happen," said Ngau, the professor. "It is just by the grace of God that they [disasters] do not happen more."

Very good policies

In Kibera, Kenya's largest slum, residents live in mud-walled, iron-roofed structures dangerously close to railway lines that carry fuel and dangerous chemicals, he said. In Mathare, the second biggest slum, people live on steep slopes prone to mudslides. In the third largest slum of Mukuru, shacks sprung up under high voltage electricity lines.

Residents of Sinai, the site of Monday's fire, were living there illegally and should have been moved, said Wanjau Maina, the chairperson of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya.

"The government knows people are living on this pipeline. The reason they let this slum exist is because they get votes from the slum," said 47-year-old Donald Wafula, a resident of Sinai. "It is very easy to control people who are hungry, but not people who are full."

Government policy is to move people out of slums on unsuitable land, said Ngau, but it is not followed.

"We have very good policies ... the policies for informal settlement and housing are there but they are never implemented," he said.

Government spokesperson Alfred Mutua could not be reached for comment.

Cheap votes

"This latest incident of fire starkly illustrates the particular vulnerability and inadequate conditions faced by people living in slums and informal settlements," said international rights group Amnesty International.

Politicians looking for cheap votes are the greatest problem when trying to relocate slum residents, said Musembi Mumo, the chairperson of the architects chapter at the Architectural Association of Kenya.

He cited the June collapse of a building under construction near the country's main airport, which killed two people and injured scores of others. At the time, the local legislator said substandard buildings in his constituency should be condemned in line with government policy, Mumo said.

But days later the same legislator was on television urging residents to attack government officials inspecting buildings, Mumo said. The legislator said he was misunderstood.

"Politicians do not want to alienate their voters... He just wants to be in parliament to eat his salary," Mumo said. Kenyan parliamentarians are among the best paid in the world, drawing salaries and perks of $10 000 a month. More than half of Kenyans live on less than $2 a day.

Mumo said Kenyan politicians do not care about anyone but themselves. "As long as they vote for him who cares if they die, new voters will be born tomorrow," he said.

  • Servaas - 2011-09-15 09:28

    I am in Nairobi, been here for close to 6 months now, this is one incident. I can tell you this, if I do a comparison between the current sa goverment and the Kenyan goverment. The Kenyan goverment are doing a much better job, the economy is growing and guess what. Corrupt officials are ratted out and send to prison and here the law is respected and enforced, not the joke it is in SA. Racism is non existent and no AA/BEE etc here. You get appointed on basis of experience. BTW, this entire Malema debacle is a joke here.

      jen - 2011-09-15 11:10

      You need to remember Servaas that Kenya has been independant for almost 50 years and although the business hub and prime tourist destination of East Africa, the majority of people are still dirt poor. Same promises, same politicians. It is a disgrace that the roads - now being built cheaply by the Chinese - were left to fall into such disrepair. And it is by no means cheap to live here. No expats are being allowed to be appointed under a certain level in most businesses. Having said that, we are all very, very happy here and it is truly a worthwhile experience.

  • chris.faurie - 2011-09-15 10:10

    The same applies in SA, squatter camps on top of gas lines will eventually cause havoc. Due to the servitude for the gas lines, open spaces are created which are used for informal housing despite warnings about the dangers. This creates a maintenance problem which in turn add to the potential dangers.

  • ngala - 2011-09-15 10:15

    The biggest problem is with the citizens, am saying this because if we shall be voting the right people to lead us then such problems could be outweighed.How can you vote for a thief and expect developments? Those people who stays in the slums should also not interfere with dangerous activities. All in all am saying sorry for those families which lost their people and those who were injured our Almighty God will help you.

  • thabatao - 2011-09-15 10:27

    So why do the squatters still build there. It is their own fault. I south Africa they do the same thing . You can warn them, and they show you a middle finger up. They bring it on themselves. The should heed the warnings and build on safer places. I stopped feeling sorry when I heard the squatters attitude. Been to Nairobi and Mombassa 3 times. Seen it all. Same locally.

  • jen - 2011-09-15 11:00

    Kenya is a lovely place with friendly people and lots of business opportunities and I feel a lot safer in Nairobi than in Johannesburg. Servaas, the Kenyan government is as corrupt as any other African country - they have just kicked out the head of the corruption unit as he was making to many waves, the mp's outstanding taxes were recently paid from the emergency budget (whitle there is a raging drought), 45million donated by the British for primary education dissappeared. The list goes on. Kibaki earns more than Obama. The people have to work here till they fall over - at the moment there is no general old age pension.

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