The nightmare that was Nairobi flooding; who or what is to blame

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Waste mismanagement partly contributed to the flooding

This time last week, motorists, school children and entire families were caught out by torrential rains that hit Nairobi. From the city’s Kileleshwa area to South C, roads became rivers, submerging entire cars and buses, washing away everything and anything in its path.

Kenyans spent almost 8 hours in traffic, with some residents reaching home at 5am the next day, only to have to get ready and go back to work.

In response to the night’s events, Kenyans took to social media to vent their frustration, not only towards an ineffective and grossly corrupt administration, but for the first time Kenyans were also placing the blame squarely with their fellow citizens.

‘Pollution’ and ‘plastic’ were tantamount to the ‘f’ word, and were mentioned with an air of contempt only reserved for the most heinous of villains.

The root causes of flash flooding in Nairobi include poor infrastructure, corruption, lack of adequate emergency and most importantly pollution among others.

The city and its population are growing at an alarming rate; Nairobi’s population is projected to pass the 8 million mark by 2020.

This rapid expansion has put a massive strain on the city’s colonial infrastructure, whose development has been neglected by city officials and by-passed by the private sector.

Moreover this chaotic and uncontrolled urban sprawl has also resulted in extensive environmental degradation, all of which have contributed to the disastrous floods that saw a number of people crush to death when part of the building collapsed in South C neighborhood.

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When roads turned into rivers

Despite clear warnings from the metrological department that the rainy season was well on its way, the city council and county administration failed to take heed. They did not unclog drainage systems along major high ways and city roads. This aging and ailing system is filled with masses of plastic and rubbish.

Moreover, the fact that several buildings were illegally built on riparian land and major waterways also compounded the problem facing an overcrowded, polluted Nairobi city whose infrastructure was already severely underdeveloped.

In recent times there have been numerous land scandals involving several high ranking Nairobi county officials, and the laxity with which said members have allowed greedy developers and contractors to redirect waterways has put a significant number of Kenyans (especially those living in the city’s informal settlements) at risk.

In addition to a corrupt city council, some Kenyan’s have also blamed corrupt Chinese firms who were contracted to build the major highways; claiming they did not build effective and apt drainage systems, resulting in the massive floods.

The tweet below is an apt example of some of the questions Kenyans are raising in regard to the efficacy of the work carried out by Chinese firms.

“China has never delivered Quality….see Thika road when it rains. And the corruption in Kenya itatumaliza”

Despite these relevant questions, the issue of pollution and plastics came to the fore once again, with one avid tweeter arguing that:

“For the 500 millionth time, Thika Rd is perfect, it’s the trash thrown out of the windows that clogs drains when it rains…where do you think all those paper bags and yoghurt cups go to when it rains?

It should be noted that the agency in charge of environmental affairs in Nairobi, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is also responsible for the damage caused by the flash floods.

It is their mandate to look after the environment and make sure that no matter what developments occur, potential environmental effects are considered prior to construction, demolition or dumping. It is NEMA’s responsibility therefore, to ensure mechanisms are in place to mitigate pressures to the environment.

Climate change is set to continue to alter our weather patterns; storms are becoming more severe and more frequent. And as such, we need to start addressing the root causes of disasters witnessed in Nairobi city last week.

As much as the city council and other authorities need to step up, formulate and implement better disaster and drainage management strategies, we the citizens also have a significant degree of agency to make the changes we want to see.

Rather than wait for corruption to leave city hall so funds can be effectively used, we can decide to stop polluting and destroying our environment.

We can drastically reduce the amount of rubbish clogging up drain pipes and rivers, and in doing help mitigate potential danger and flooding when the storms come.

I will end on a Foucauldian note, by saying that power is everywhere and we should embrace it to prevent events like this from happening again.