Residents of Kibra Slum living close to Mutuine River were on Friday, May 14, 2021, left homeless and speechless after heavy floods wreaked havoc. Rumors and misconceptions about the floods pumped like toxic vapor.
Police reports indicated at least four residents died, among them two young motorcyclists that were trying to cross the river at night. Their bodies, after a thorough search, were retrieved in a ditch near a bridge being constructed along the Yaya lang’ata link road.
To the affected families, the wounds are old and deep. Perhaps confirming the old damning narrative about being a child born in the ghetto, the one that foretold a calamity and hastened its arrival.
Residents blamed the ongoing construction as the main cause of deaths. The dwellers insisted the contractor was sluggish and his decision to build a small makeshift culvert along the river was ill-thought as water could not flow freely.
“…The litter blocked this small culvert forcing water to flow on the road. Our friends tried to cross but sadly, they were swept off.” Said Rio, a Sokomoko resident.
Close to 30,000 people in Kibra live along river banks and main drainage systems. This, according to Kounkuey Design Initiative, a local NGO, amounts to about 16% of the total population in Kibra. Most of this population lives along Mutuine River that flows south-eastwards, where the Nairobi dam ‘was’ located. Today, the area is littered. Almost all cases of destruction of property, losses, and at times deaths, due to ravaging floods, are reported in the vulnerable areas
Solid waste problem
Sokomoko has been home to Anne Atieno for 20 years now. Ann contends it is the only place she can afford rent while managing her teenage children.
“Most of the people we lived together here moved out because of floods. I cannot follow suit because other places are too expensive for me. I tried incurring and found that the cheapest house costs about Ksh.4000 per room. I’ll need two or three rooms to accommodate my entire family. I cannot afford that”
Acknowledging the problem will persist if no action was taken; Anne had to team up with her neighbors and tame the menace of poor waste disposal.
“We started cleaning the drainage system and the river as well. We had agreed with the county government that once the clean-up was done, they would pick up the garbage and dispose to a safer area. They never came. Rains came and swept back the garbage into the river.”
Environmental experts posit that there is no proper waste management system in informal settlements. Most of the residents dump their waste, including food remains, polythene bags, sanitary towels, and diapers in drainages, rivers, and even by the roadsides. This, according to the said experts, is hazardous.
Data from the county government of Nairobi shows an increase in the amount of waste collected in Nairobi County over the past five years. It further reveals there has been an increase in waste from Nairobi residents annually raising a concern. In 2016 it is estimated that there was approximately 1.28 million tons of waste with the city council successfully collecting only nine hundred thousand tons. That means more than 380,000 tons remained dumped on the streets. By 2020, 1.48 million tons of waste was collected from 1.97 million tons of total waste. This means that more than 490 000 tons were left lying on the streets. This clogs most drainage systems and causes flooding when it rains. However, in 2020, the Nairobi Metropolitan service intensified garbage collection around the city by engaging a new contractor who was to scale up garbage collection from 1000 tons a day to 2200 tons. It was then estimated that Nairobians generate 2500 tons of garbage daily.
Blocking of drainage
Climate scientist and Assistant Director of Public Weather Service at the Kenya Meteorological Department Ms. Mary Kilavi observes that despite the rain intensity being lower in Nairobi, other factors may lead to increased flooding in informal settlements like Kibra.
“To tell what amount of rain can cause flooding in urban areas is context-specific, it depends on a lot of factors. For example in Nairobi, in our preliminary research, we have realized that if it rains anything above 20mm in a day especially over a short period, flooding occurs in some places and also if rainfall accumulates over about three days up to 50mm” Said Kilavi.
May noted that one imperative factor especially in informal settlements is the drainage system which needs to be carefully addressed.
“In many informal settlements, you may find there is a nice drainage system but flooding still occurs because they are blocked.” She added.
Data from the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC) shows that Kibera has been recording varying amounts of rainfall through the last 5 years. High amounts of rainfall in some seasons did not always result in flooding and in some seasons, low rainfall resulted in flooding.
According to a household survey done by KDI, most residents in Kibra consider floods as the severest weather-related risk that affects them. Over 34% of households that were surveyed said their houses were flooded in 2015.
Frank Kirimi, an infrastructural architect at Kounkuey Design Initiative expounds that roads and other infrastructure in Kibera should be designed differently to minimize flooding risk in the slum.
Frank is urging local authorities in charge of development projects in Kibra to consider some key factors before commissioning infrastructure projects in the area.
“As Nairobi’s population grows, its planning has proved to be insufficient to the current population. For example; rainwater from roofs on the city buildings was originally directed to sewer lines. But today with doubled population from the original plan, excess water from rain lacks drainage.” Frank said.
“With the increased infrastructure to cater for the ballooning population, it is clear that flooding risk is higher. In informal settlements like Kibra, you’ll find that a new tarmac may be built with no proper drainage system. Now the rainwater that used to be absorbed into the ground will find its way into people’s houses.”
Mr. Kirimi suggests a need for an inclusive integrated framework for infrastructure in Kibra. He says the framework will advise on better ways to build roads and other infrastructure in informal settlements.
“This framework will be a guideline on how to build infrastructure in informal settlements to minimize flood risks. It has great ideas like greenways and proper drainage systems that can accommodate and direct excess water from rains.”
In May 2020, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service announced that they’ll start building 444 kilometers of feeder roads in Nairobi’s informal settlements to ease transport. 28 kilometers of these roads were to be built in Kibra, an ongoing project. It is not clear yet if the contractors adopted the framework.