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January 19, 2019

Liveability in Nairobi has improved, but much more can be done

The recent findings on the survey of liveability in various cities of the world have underscored what Nairobi residents already know. That life in the city in the sun is less than glamorous.

Hopefully our city fathers will take interest in this survey as part of their plans to improve things and make Nairobi truly the city in the sun. After all, it is the capital city and continues to represent the highest opportunity for both business and career. In fact, it is estimated that it generates about 60 per cent of the wealth of the country as measured by the gross domestic product and is the economic hub for East and Central Africa.


A total of 140 cities in the world were surveyed, with Nairobi taking position 120. Overall, its score on various measures of liveability was 53.1 per cent. In terms of the way we rank our children in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, this would perhaps be a D grade, not good enough to get university admission, albeit not a fail.


Perhaps to give some credit, Nairobi ranks among the ten most improved with a five-year score movement of 1.5 per cent. There are prospects for much more improvement. This is more important considering that 38 of the countries surveyed have deteriorated, and overall, liveability across the world has also deteriorated with overall global liveability falling by a percentage over the last five years.

Stability has declined, triggered by acts of terrorism and violence as well as civil unrest and the impact is a global.


The liveability survey, by the Economist Intelligence Unit, assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions. Each city is then assessed using various factors across five broad categories: stability, education, infrastructure, healthcare, culture and environment. Representatives are asked to rate each factor as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable.


From the summary of the ratings, each city is given a score ranging from one to 100, which represent intolerable for a score of one and ideal for a score of 100.


A score of 80 to 100 means there are few, if any, challenges to living standards. This would correspond to an A grade. Leading with this score are Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver. These are basically cities in countries in the more developed parts of the world.


A score of 70 to 80 means day-to-day living is fine in general, but some aspects of life may entail problems, corresponding to a B grade.

Then the score of 60 to 70 means negative factors have an impact on day-to-day living. This is a C grade.


Below this and where Nairobi is ranked is the score of 50 to 60, meaning liveability is substantially constrained, which corresponds to a D grade.


Then we have the below 50 score, where most aspects of living are severely restricted corresponding to an F grade.

Leading from the bottom are cities in countries in Middle East and Africa, with Lagos and Tripoli among the bottom five.


So, according to the survey findings, liveability in Nairobi is substantially constrained.


Liveability is important to attract investment and tourists who are critical for economic development. Infrastructure, for instance, including quality of public transport, the road network, housing, water and electricity remain areas of great concern to most Nairobi residents. It is perhaps only in the areas of telecommunications and quality of international links that could be regarded as areas of good performance.

Clean water shortage, in particular, has gained an acceptable status to the extent that bottled water is the norm and even enjoys tax privileges. And yet water is basic not only in its daily requirement, but also because it has hygiene and health implication. With adequate water supply, a lot of infectious diseases could be prevented, saving on health costs as well as improving livelihoods.

Perhaps the now public warning of an impeding El Nino rains is the opportunity to harvest water and improve water availability in Nairobi. The perennial flooding in the city, even as taps run dry, is a contradiction of sorts.


Of course Nairobi has had its inordinate share of security threats especially from terrorism that impacts on its stability ranking. This aside, prevalence of petty and violent crimes as well as civil unrest have stability consequences. Unlike terrorism, which is a major threat of global proportions, these are more local problems that need addressing to improve on stability ranking.


The quality and especially affordability of healthcare is also one of the rankings that impact on liveability. While the quality of private healthcare is of international standard, it is only affordable to a minority that have private insurance. The availability and quality of public healthcare is overburdened by the high number of people that rely on it. But perhaps more critical to the health sector is the high cost of medication with a pharmaceutical sector that is largely self regulating and thrives on large margins.


The availability and quality of education is one liveability category that Nairobi may rank highly in. The education sector highly benefits from a population that values quality education, with parents going to great lengths to augment government efforts. However, we are now witnessing the trend of a gradual shift of education from government to private institutions, which negatively impact the cost of living. Today a living wage in Nairobi could be considered one that will afford private education, thus creating an avenue for civil unrest as workers demand higher pay.


Finally in the ranking is the culture and environment. All year round Nairobi residents enjoy pleasant weather, with no extremes of cold or hot temperatures. It also has a socially friendly city, with entertainment, food and drink outlets of high standard. This should reflect positively on this ranking category. However, the inclusion of corruption within this category means the overall ranking is low. The vice of corruption continues to be the enemy within, and an area of focus for an overall improvement in the liveability of Nairobi.


While the scope for improvement is always there, and will perhaps come gradually, the need to lead from the top rather than the bottom is both immediate and achievable.


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