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Heavy rains expose Nairobi’s poor planning

The glaring inability of  Nairobi County to handle floods caused by torrential rains has left in its wake questions about long-standing corruption in the planning and housing department, political ineptitude on both levels of government and failings in essential planning.

Also brought to the fore is the national government’s lack of seriousness in ending what has become a cyclical poor response to disasters.

Calamities like floods and droughts are continuously being treated as emergencies in spite of predictable weather events usually forecast long before they occur.

Also unclear is why the country lacks a disaster management policy or a department despite the Sh5 billion allocated yearly in the national budget through a contingency fund to respond to such matters.

On Tuesday night, residents from a number of estates in the southern section of the city had a sleepless night after flood waters and effluent flowed into their homes during a night of extremely heavy rain.

Others, including 18 pupils attending Makini School, spent the whole night outside, some in submerged vehicles as traffic in some sections of the city ground to a complete standstill because of the flooded roads.


The police who usually direct traffic on the affected roads were nowhere to be seen and neither were rescuers from the national or county governments as the city stared at a major disaster.

The Meteorological Department insists it issued advance warnings to the relevant authorities including the county government about the heavy heavy rainfall that would hit Nairobi, but it seemed no one took it seriously.

“We gave out a warning on Sunday that the city was likely to receive over 50 millilitres of rain in 24 hours this week,” Peter Ambeje, the deputy director in charge of forecasting, said.

The floods, which have so far killed 11 people in Nairobi, are according to experts the latest example of the consequences of greed that has allowed buildings to be constructed on almost every available open space in the city in total disregard of existing laws.

“I am not convinced it is poor planning but rather the intentional denial of space for water to flow naturally out of the city,” said Dr Lawrence Esho, the head of the School of Architecture and Physical Planning at the Technical University of Kenya.

“We have built on all our soft surfaces including on riparian areas and too close to the two main drainage systems for Nairobi. However, nature has its own system of conveyance and gravity, the effect is very clear,” he said.

According to the architect, all water drainage systems in the city direct water out of the capital through two main channels – the Nairobi and Motoine rivers.


Nairobi River runs from Kileleshwa to Westlands and crosses the city centre at the Globe Cinema roundabout before leaving the city to join Athi River after traversing the vast Eastlands area.

Motoine River originates from Ngong Forest, runs through Kibera slum into Nairobi Dam, which is supposed to act as a temporary reservoir before heading to Nairobi West and into Industrial Area and leaving the city through Kayole to join Athi River.

However, both rivers have been seriously encroached upon despite an existing law prohibiting the putting up of developments 30 metres to a natural water body.

In the case of Nairobi River, for instance, the section between St Mary’s School and Church Road in Kileleshwa is heavily encroached on with some buildings built right on top of the river in some places.

Other developers have constructed dykes to divert the river’s natural course in order to shore up their buildings.

The Nairobi Dam was commissioned in 1957 to temporarily hold water from Ngong Forest and prevent flooding in the low-lying South C, Nairobi West and Madaraka areas. But these estates were flooded on Tuesday due to neglect.