Disasters continue to happen

News and Press Release
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NAIROBI, 21 September 2011 (IRIN) - To illustrate the lack of disaster preparedness across East Africa, a cartoon in a weekly newspaper lists, tongue in cheek, the six chapters of the region's disaster preparedness and management blueprint. These range from visits by political dignitaries to the scene of disaster, declaration of days of mourning, calls for foreign aid, rhetoric, promises to take action, the blame game and finally, business as usual.

The situation in Kenya, especially concerning man-made disasters, seems to follow this script. IRIN looks at some potential "disasters waiting to happen", as well as recent incidents, focusing on the impact, immediate action taken and whether or not lessons learnt have resulted in better preparedness:

Railway line destruction across Kibera slum in Nairobi: In the event of a train crash, the impact would be deadly given the numbers of people living in the slum (said to be Africa's largest, with up to 200,000 people, according to the latest census) and the fact that structures have been built so close to the railway line.

Construction under electric power lines or close to petroleum pipelines: Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu are some of Kenya's main cities with such buildings, mostly in densely populated, low-income areas. In Kisumu city, the village of Usoma is located a few metres from the Kisumu Pipeline Depot. Construction of residential buildings and other structures close to airports, such as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as well as airports and airstrips in towns such as Eldoret, Kitale (in the Rift Valley) and Kakamega (in Western Province). On 13 September, Internal Security Minister Orwa Ojode, speaking about the situation around JKIA, said: "This is a disaster in waiting. The government cannot take any more of such laxity and resistance to relocation. We must move with speed and save Kenyans from avoidable death traps."

Siphoning of fuel from oil tanker vehicles involved in accidents: Despite an incident in the Rift Valley in February 2009 when more than 100 people died, the danger posed by traffic accidents involving vehicles carrying petroleum products remains. Immediately after the Salgaa incident, the Kenyan president directed the establishment of special off-road parking bays for truckers but this has not yet been effected.

Floods: So far, incidents of flooding reported in 2011 have not caused serious damage but weather experts and disaster preparedness officials have warned that parts of the country, especially the drought-affected northwest as well as Upper Eastern, could experience floods during the coming rainy season (October-November). In mid-2010, more than 60 people died and thousands more were displaced following floods and mudslides across the country, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Recent incidents

Fire: More than 100 people were killed, dozens injured and thousands displaced on 12 September following a fire caused by a fuel leak from a Kenya Pipeline Company petrol pipeline. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, among other officials, visited the scene the same day. Those displaced are staying at a social hall pending relocation. The government has announced it will find alternative accommodation for them. At present, disaster response in Kenya is ad-hoc although the government did draft a National Policy for Disaster Management in Kenya in March 2009, and a National Disaster Response Plan.

According to the Kenya National Disaster Operational Centre, 110 fire incidents have occurred this year, up from 70 between October and December 2010. Most of this year's incidents have been in urban slums.

Road accidents: In September alone, at least 50 deaths occurred in traffic accidents. The latest incident on 19 September involved a Mandera-bound bus that crashed, killing 13 passengers and injured 34 others. In August, 23 people died in an accident in Mbooni, Eastern Province. Such accidents continue, despite the government having put in place regulations aimed at controlling the speed and conduct of public transport buses and other vehicles (matatus), most of which are involved in the accidents.

Illicit alcohol: More than 30 people died in September after consuming contaminated illegal liquor in Nyahururu, Ruiru and Kiambu areas of Central Province. In a recent statement, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere said this month had been the worst since he started his tenure in 2009, with more than 250 deaths reported countrywide in various incidents.

Sub-standard construction: Multi-storey buildings in Nairobi and other towns across the country have collapsed while still under construction owing to poor building standards, causing death and injuries. On 18 September, four people died when a half-finished building collapsed in Vihiga town in western Kenya. On 16 June, four people died and several others were injured when a two-storey building collapsed in Nairobi.