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What is to blame for collapsed buildings

Monday August 14 2017

A scene of a collapsed building in Kware

The scene of a collapsed building in Kware, Nairobi, on June 14, 2017. A tribunal should be established to clean up the backlog of cases related to collapsed and faulty buildings. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


The recent collapse of a building in Nairobi’s Embakasi area is yet another addition to a series of structures that have crumbled around the country, leaving a trail of destruction and scores dead.

Memories of the deadly Huruma building disaster last year that claimed more than 50 lives are still fresh in the minds of many Kenyans.

However, since then, a number of other accidents have occurred.

The Embakasi incident had few fatalities, because the residents heeded an evacuation notice.


However, it is evident that many Kenyans are exposed to grave danger as a result of sub-standard buildings and God forbid, should Nairobi and other towns experience an earthquake.

According to the National Buildings Inspectorate ­ established in 2015 by a Presidential Order to enforce building standards, and building environment safety, demolish sub-standard buildings and ensure secure urban and riparian areas - about 1,440 of the 4,690 houses inspected in Nairobi between 2015 and this year require urgent action.


Of these, 640 need immediate testing in the materials and standards used on concrete, steel and bricks.

The buildings that need immediate testing may rise significantly as the inspection is going on.

The report indicates that only 51 out of the 640 buildings have complied with notices issued by the inspectorate, requiring building testing, remedy and action plans.

The notices come in different forms: Warning letters, prosecution, penalty, or demolition.


Depending on the quality of the building, the owners may be required to reinforce or demolish them.

Demolition is supposed to be done by the owner, failure to which the State does at the owner’s cost.

A report by the Ombudsman (2015) on the first Huruma incident in 2015 identified a number of issues, including corruption, lack of coordination, inaction by State officers, questionable workmanship, inadequate supervision, inspection and monitoring, approval lacuna, limited skills, substandard materials and unscrupulous developers.

Most of these issues are also reported by the National Disaster Management Authority (2015, 2016), Kenya Accreditation Service (2016) and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR, 2014).

In addition, the National Disaster Management Authority reaffirms that buildings collapse due to circumvention of approval procedures, human error and failure by the general public to report dangerous buildings and those contravening the law.

The Kenya Accreditation Service further states that the collapse of buildings is largely attributable to: Poor designs, professional deficit and inadequate documented policies, systems and procedures governing national and county governments in addressing the issue.

The KNCHR (2014) agrees that contractors subvert the law and put up substandard buildings in order to meet the increasing housing demand.

According to the inspectorate, apart from architectural, engineering and technical faults, there are other issues that need to be addressed urgently.

They include law enforcement, security of inspectorate teams, inter-governmental and agency coordination, professional negligence, integrity issues, and legal capacity.

Therefore, there is a need to build legal capacity and strengthen the inspectorate to instil compliance with standards and follow through notices once issued to the owners of the risky buildings.

A tribunal should be established to clean up the backlog of cases related to collapsed and faulty buildings.

As the way forward, building quality control should be given priority in the medium term.

Mr Mose is a policy analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA). [email protected]