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Kiambu Needs To Act Fast Before Any Building ‘Hurumas’ To Cause Death And Destruction.

There has never been a time when the safety of buildings in Kenya have fallen under severe scrutiny than now especially in the wake of the collapse of a flat in Huruma, Nairobi County that has so far claimed 37 lives with more than 70 people still missing. 

The public is concerned about their safety and people are beginning to ask the hard questions about how the construction of some of these buildings were cleared by the officers in the Lands office, surveyors, architects and county government engineers who are all members of some of the professional bodies mandated to ensure public safety in residential and commercial developments.

Why are buildings collapsing in Kenya, a country with an abundance of well trained and experienced architects, quantity surveyors, structural engineers, real estate managers and urban planners? Poor construction and shoddy work are the two main causes of the collapsing buildings. The problem lies in greed and poor workmanship. Property developers are always in breach of the law while the relevant authorities aren’t enforcing the regulations governing the construction of buildings in urban centres.

The biggest blunt of the blame has to be directed at the county government officials who oversee the construction and maintenance of the houses in urban centres.

“I think the county government is to blame. Corruption is the reason these buildings collapse. Corrupt officials often accept bribes in return for building contracts. Contractors are therefore forced to cut corners and use poor materials to turn a profit. Buildings are meant to be inspected every year, but the officers don’t do that," said Joe, a resident of Makongeni Phase 13.

The Huruma case is a replica of so many constructions that are being done in all major towns. We have had our own cases of buildings collapsing in Thika for instance.

A spot check around various estates within Kiambu County evidently expose the kind of impunity contractors and landowners exhibit as most of the technical specifications necessary in building and construction are never adhered to.

The shortage of affordable and decent housing is no doubt one of the biggest problems in rapidly growing urban centres. This is why investors are taking short-cuts in developing houses for residents while those in authorities are busy milking ‘the cow’ at the expense of public safety.

Very many buildings have been erected on unsafe grounds. Others have been built using poor quality materials or are not approved by the construction authorities. The use of low grade cement in construction of house columns for instance is a great cause for the collapse of buildings across the country.

We have witnessed buildings being erected on foundations that have not been done as per the standard, and in other cases, the sub-structure (the walls below ground) lying on hard-core instead of being reinforced concrete strip footings. We have buildings that have been brought up using poor quality concrete where specifications for good mix were not followed or some houses having no quality reinforcement bars.

By virtual of its proximity and fast growth, Thika Town is the biggest culprit. So many buildings in the town both in the CBD and in the periphery are disasters in waiting.

Popular residential estates like Makongeni, Kiganjo, Kisii, Nanasi, YMCA/Pilot, Section 2, Witeithie and Ngoingwa are hosts to the biggest life threatening developments. Greedy and exploitative landlords are accommodating hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, some in overcrowded, unregulated and poor quality housing.

The problem?

Our professionals and authorities have abdicated their role. County governments can be blamed for placing too many bottlenecks on the way as one plans to put up real estate developments. Their public utilities charge is far more than these developments actually cost, thus doubling the cost of construction.

Kiambu County Government is therefore squarely to blame for the mushrooming sub-standard buildings around its towns, coupled by their weak mechanism in monitoring the construction industry after approving building plans. They currently do not have a building master plan which is supposed to ensure that development in our urban centres does not interfere with proper running of these facilities.

Despite our country having the best building plans approval system in Sub-Saharan Africa, the monitoring and enforcement has been a mockery so far, leading to weak buildings which collapse. This calls for a proper mechanism to ensure that engineers and other professionals involved in construction are subjected to rigorous vetting or an examination before being cleared to put up such structures. 

The Remedy

The county government should conduct a comprehensive audit of all buildings within their jurisdiction, particularly in the high-density areas. Immediate deployment of adequate planners, architects and engineers in all sub-counties should be a priority, so is the proper enforcement of county building and construction by-laws and regulations so as to eliminate illegal construction.

Only professionals with proven ability should be allowed to put up the towering buildings. 

We should also seriously consider the option of demolishing all buildings that pose a public safety hazard as a way of preventing future tragedies.

As a long-term measure, the County Government of Kiambu must urgently eliminate the bottlenecks that stand in the way of good workmanship, starting with corruption, which has led to the proliferation of unsafe buildings. It must streamline the issuance of title deeds so that land owners have the legal wherewithal to secure all the permits that they need from the government agencies that regulate building and construction.

In the same vein, they must increase the number of inspection officers and if need be retrain those it has hired to examine buildings under construction to ensure that problems are arrested before they are completed and tenants move in.

Architects, quantity surveyors and engineers too have the duty to advice investors against unrealistic projects which stall, degrade the environment or collapse. Should they fail to do this and the building collapses, stalls or degrades the environment, such experts cannot escape blame.

Unless building industry professionals are governed by professional ethics and refuse to be manipulated by any one, buildings will continue to collapse as people are killed, property destroyed and investors give Kenya a wide berth.

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