By Monicah Mwangi
The incidents of buildings coming down in the city are raising eyebrows. In less than a month, 2 buildings have collapsed in Nairobi killing and injuring many.
The recent collapse in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate of the development on plot No. LR. 7107/2 which left four people dead and a dozen others injured and the Langata collapse should, by all means be the last witnessed in the country.
However, this could be just a wish since there are many such disasters in the waiting if nothing is done. The collapse the buildings have been attributed to lack of proper building laws with the involved parties coming up and shifting blames.
Citing the Pipeline incident, Town Clerk Phillip Kisia was in the local media saying the council had moved to enforce its by-laws by issuing enforcement notices in 2009 to stop the development of the killer building the court issued interim orders a month later adding that such a tragedy would have been avoided. This is a clear indication of conflicts within the building sector in the country.
“I am wholly blaming the judiciary for the lives lost for interfering with the council’s mandate in enforcing its by-laws and other laws related to constructions in the city,” Kisia was quoted.
The Eastland part of Nairobi is most affected by the poorly constructed houses as many houses are built without putting the required guidelines set by the City Government. Some of these houses are built on swamps making it even more dangerous since most of them are already occupied.
According to Waweru Gathecha, an architect and planner with the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), Kenyans should not be surprised by the collapse of the buildings and urged that many more could be coming down in the future. “I am amazed only one building has come down in Pipeline, the buildings there are poor constructed and its true there is a disaster in waiting for the country” Waweru said during an interview.
He went ahead to say that 50% of the buildings in Eastland part of Nairobi are not technically sound warning that there is no 2 way about it than collapsing. “Most of those buildings you see in Eastland’s will come down at some point,” he said with ease. He attributed the poor constructions to the developers who he said opt for shortcuts adding corruption into it. “The greedy developers are to blame since they have the money and belief they can buy anything including the right to put up a building without following the set rules,” he said.
Waweru also put the blame to the Government citing chapter 5, article 66 of the Constitution which states that the state may regulate the use of any land or any interest in or right over any land in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or land use planning.
He cleared AAK from the whole matter saying none of the collapsed building had been planned by an architect from the association. “As a matter of fact no building planned by our architect has collapsed and we have set mechanisms for disciplining any architect in our association who does a shoddy job.” He however said there is nothing the association could do about the collapsing buildings since they don’t have the mandate to arrest or punish any person who is not in their membership list. He confirmed the fear that many buildings in this city are death traps and Kenyans should take charge of their lives.
The city council bylaws states that any house that goes up beyond the fourth floor should have lifts but this law has highly been violated by developers who care more about the money than the lives of Kenyans. Some buildings have been built up to the seventh floor most of them with single rooms and no lifts. This is also evident in places like Embakasi, Utawala, Kayole, Umoja, Dandora and even Mwiki. Most of these are residential areas occupied by the middle level Kenyans.
According to the Town Clerk, the Nairobi City Council had identified most of the above estates adding Kahawa West Phase II, Tassia, Umoja Zone 8 & 9 and Roysambu as areas where unauthorized constructions were rife and appealed to residents of these areas to demand approval records of the structures they were occupying and verify the information with the NCC.
“The council will carry out an assessment on all structures in the city and those that would fail integrity test will be demolished,” Kisia said. He went ahead to say that, “there will be no mercy, there will be no sympathy and there will be no complacency. It will be firm and decisive”.
The Town Clerk urged the public to support the council’s enforcement actions of demolishing unauthorized constructions.
Kisia said he gets concerned when the public rises to protect the developers who violate NCC laws and rights of the citizens whereas when a building comes down the same citizens get affected and go ahead blaming the council claiming they are not doing their work.
Due to the multiplicity of laws and regulations guiding planning and building in Kenya, various conflicts have been witnessed in the past. There is lack of a mainstream mechanism for physical development planning thus creating a conflict between the national, regional and local levels of planning.
Whereas the plan formulation and preparation is undertaken by the Central Government, plan implementation is the responsibility of the Local Government. This has manifested in physical development plans not being informed by local needs thus failing to address local realities.
The building industry lacks a comprehensive and integrated framework within which to operate. There are many pieces of legislation scattered in many statutes that impact on this huge industry. This scattered nature of the legislation makes it difficult for developers to understand the requirements and creates ambiguities that make effective enforcement of the law difficult leading to the disastrous incidents witnessed.
The administration of the various statutes is carried out by several agencies making it even more difficult to regulate the industry. For instance, the sanitation aspects are the responsibility of the public health officers regulated by the public health Act, fires control regulation is under the fire officers while the construction of the building is by local authorities under the Local Government act. This multiplicity of institutions creates conflicts and confusion that inhibits the proper functioning of the industry.
A Planning and Building Bill which was tabled in Parliament last year is yet to be signed into law showing a clear absence of political will to regulate the building sector. If the Bill was signed it would have enabled the creation of the Planning and Building Authority that would enhance the coordination of the planning and building sector actors. These would have brought the functions of the various institutions under one roof bringing an ease of coordination and implementation.
Waweru claimed the Bill was frosted by competing interests within the government adding that the whole exercise which he said had eaten much of their time produced nothing. “We were too much for the Bill but was disappointed at the end of it and there was nothing we could do about, we just hope someday it will be re-tabled before Parliament and bear fruits,” Waweru concluded.