WHAT IS AILING OUR BUILDINGS?
About one month ago ,before dawn on a Sunday morning on the 3rd of June 2018, a five-storey building in Huruma, Nairobi, collapsed. It left at least 3 people dead and 3 others hospitalized in critical condition.
For most Kenyans however, the news of a building collapsing has now become a little too common to register any shock. It’s the sad and bitter truth. In the last 20 years alone, at least 20 buildings have collapsed across the country killing at least 200 people, injuring an even higher number and resulting in loss of property worth hundreds of millions. The most recent devastating case was recorded in April 2016 when a building in Huruma collapsed claiming 52 lives.
In 2017 , the National Building Inspectorate (NBI) – whose mandate is to audit buildings for conformity with land registration, planning, zoning, building standards and structural soundness – concluded an audit of 4,879 buildings in high risk towns countrywide. A total of 826 buildings were found to be unsafe and structurally unsound. To date, at least 38 buildings have been demolished, excluding those that collapsed on their own.
Research and expert discussions have indicated that the most common reasons for the collapsing of buildings include poor structural design; faulty construction; substandard materials; and poor workmanship.
However, the AAK wishes to lend its voice to this discussion and state that the root cause of collapse of buildings is a culture of greed , corruption and impunity.
The success of a construction project is based on a chain of players. The developer; qualified professionals; County Governments who issue relevant licences and inspect ongoing works; National Government Agencies e.g. National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), National Construction Authority (NCA) among others.
This chain is as strong as its weakest link. If any one of these parties does not execute their mandate as required by law, the building becomes a potential candidate for collapse.
Impunity is the common thread that cuts across all the weak links. From the greedy developer; unqualified persons purpoting to be professionals; corrupt County Government and Government Agency officials ; to the apathetic citizenry. To top it all up, a weak judicial system which has not held a single person criminally liable since the first building which collapsed in the year 1996!
As way forward, it is imperative that Government steps up in its role of protecting its citizenry from the whims of errant developers.
In the case of Nairobi, residents are desprate for decent, affordable housing, and is is in this desperation that greedy developers thrive. 60 % of the city’s population live in informal settlements and slums. County Governments have the mandate of ensuring that all buildings that are constructed are approved and meet all minimum requirements as stipulated by law . Unfortunately, statistics show that up to 70% of all buildings constructed in Nairobi are done so without requisite approval from the County Government. The County should also ensure that compliance to law is made much easier. While the digitisation of the County building approval process is a welcome move, users of the system still complain of bottlenecks and for the most part , it is still a lengthy process not devoid of the “human interface” as had been envisioned. The high development approval fees in Nairobi and many other counties still remains a deterrent factor to compliance.
The NCA on its part should have an inhouse enforcement arm similar to that of NTSA. Many may have seen building sites still a buzz even after the famous ‘x’ has been painted across its gates because the NCA can for the most part only bark but not bite.
The demolition of unsafe buildings by the NBI should be expedited with urgency, and the NBI adequately funded to carry out this sometimes delicate and highly technical function. 38 out of the 826 structually unsound buildings have collapsed , are we going to sit around waiting for the remaining 788 to collapse?
This is a call to action to the National Government and Counties. We must act fast and we must act now, it is a matter of life and death.