, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 13 – It’s a common phenomenon in Kenya when disaster strikes.
Crowds throng such scenes instead of keeping away.
It was no different on Tuesday in Embakasi East, the scene where a poorly constructed building collapsed, leaving five people missing and more than a hundred families homeless.
Hundreds of thronged the scene, with some hanging dangerously on a wall surrounding the unsafe structure reflecting an image of just how unemployment may have gotten to ‘suffocating’ levels in the country.
For hours they stayed there put to witness the rescue and recovery operation.
Appeals from security officers to keep a safe distance or just proceed with their businesses fell on dead years and sometimes, they were forced to lob teargas canisters “to save the crowd” from imminent danger.
“They have suspended everything to come and witness this…no work today?” a police officer at the scene wondered.
Others were seen crowded in the nearby balconies for hours.
Some of the buildings according to the County Government are poorly constructed and the one adjacent to the one that collapsed had to be evacuated.
– Housing Problem –
Several buildings have collapsed in recent years in Nairobi and other Kenyan cities, where a property boom has seen buildings shoot up at high speed, often with little regard for regulations.
Such incidents have raised questions about the quality of building materials and construction standards in a country where rampant corruption has seen unscrupulous developers using bribes to avoid regulations.
In April last year, 49 people died when a six-storey building collapsed in Huruma Estate following days of heavy rains which caused floods and landslides.
The building, constructed two years earlier, had been slated for demolition after being declared structurally unsound.
Although around 150 families were living there in tightly-packed conditions, an order to evacuate the building and demolish it was ignored.
– Legal Hurdles –
Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero is aware of the housing menace, which exposes thousands of lives to danger within the city but says the court won’t allow him to act.
After the Huruma incident, he says many buildings were earmarked for demolition, the Embakasi East one included, but the owners rushed to court to seek injunctions.
In Nairobi currently, Governor Kidero says there are about 1,560 houses while about 40,000 were constructed ‘without’ an approval from City Hall.
“I would urge our judges and magistrate when such developers rush to court, they should not come in the way because the result is what we are seeing here today,” he said on Tuesday, after visiting the site.
By Tuesday evening, five people were still missing according to the National Disaster Management Unit.
The seven-storey building had 120 units and about 128 families, who were evacuated hours before it collapsed.