Over 700 buildings in Kenya death traps - NCA report

There are thousands of unapproved buildings in Nairobi at risk of collapse

In Summary

• Poor workmanship is noted in the report as the leading cause of building collapse in the country.

• At least 51 cases accounting for 35 per cent of buildings collapsed for this reason.

A site of a collapsed building in Huruma, Nairobi
A site of a collapsed building in Huruma, Nairobi
Image: FILE

Some 723 buildings in the country have been marked as very dangerous by the National Construction Authority, meaning those living in them await disaster. 

NCA's findings are from an assessment of 14,895 buildings conducted in 2018.

From the assessed buildings, 10,791 were found to be very unsafe and either needed to be demolished or reinforced before occupation. Another 1,217 were found to be fair and only 2,194 certified safe.

There are also thousands of unapproved buildings in Nairobi at risk of collapse, according to the data.

The report released this year recorded over 87 cases of collapsed buildings in the last five years.

In one case last year, seven pupils at Precious Talent Top School in Nairobi’s, Dagoretti area died when the building came down on September 23. 

The incident that witnesses say happened so fast left five dead on the spot after the two-storey building collapsed on them. Two more later succumbed to their injuries.

Sixty-four others who were trapped underneath the piles of wood and iron sheets were rushed to the hospital.

Most of the victims were Standard 5 to 8 pupils whose lessons had already begun, but the parents of all the 800 students in the school had to find new schools for their children.

City buildings inspectorate blamed the incident on contractors using substandard materials and poor workmanship. A year later, investigations are still ongoing with no evidence to institute a prosecution.

Barely two months after the incident, five more people died after a six-storey building in Tassia, Embakassi area collapsed.

Investigations into the cause of the Tassia building collapse are still ongoing but preliminary reports pointed to poor workmanship.

Experts wondered how people still chose to stay in the house despite obvious signs that the building was unstable.

Approximately 200 people have lost their lives in the last five years and over 1,000 injured according to the NCA. The economy has lost over Sh2.4 billion in investments

The research by NCA found that the housing needs especially in the city due to rapid population growth has exacerbated the situation.

The year 2015 saw the highest number of buildings failures with a record 27 structures collapsing, leading to almost 100 deaths.

Ten cases were recorded in 2017 while 2018 had five and three cases were reported last year. NCA has no data on collapsed buildings in 2016.

The majority (65 per cent) of the buildings were residential houses while 25 per cent were commercial. Ten per cent were for mixed-use.

NCA stated that 66 per cent of the building collapsed after completion while 34 per cent collapsed during construction.

Nairobi leads in the cases of collapsed buildings at 33, followed by Kiambu at 14. Nakuru and Mombasa recorded five cases while Kakamega had four. Despite information on unsafe structures being given to the owners, no action is taken and the buildings continue to be used.

Meanwhile, NCA and other institutions charged with keeping buildings safe continue to fight over whose role it is to instigate action.

According to the report, minimal conclusive investigations that lead to prosecutions are carried out. Most cases have no clear record of actions taken.

“This in a way encourages impunity from greedy investors, unethical professionals, and weak institutions that regulate the industry,” reads part of the report.

The document shows over 40 per cent of the building collapse cases do not have a clear record of actions taken while in 12 per cent, nothing was done. Only one per cent of the cases have made it to court, mostly, after a public uproar.

For the period in the record, six constructions have been suspended, 14 have been demolished, 10 sites have been closed while two have been recommended for repair.

Poor workmanship is noted in the report as the leading cause of building collapse in the country. At least 51 cases accounting for 35 per cent of buildings collapsed for this reason.

“Rogue contractors who do not follow the set construction standards, use unskilled workers or take short cuts, end up with weak structures unsuitable for their functionality,” noted the report.

In June this year after a building collapsed in Kericho, NCA executive director Maurice Aketch cautioned property developers against using unregistered contractors in construction work.

“Engaging non-registered persons is not only a contravention of the law but also dangerous to people’s lives,” he said in a notice.

Use of substandard materials (40 cases accounting for 28 per cent) in construction has also led to a number of buildings collapsing in the country.

According to NCA, the most smuggled counterfeit materials are steel, pipes and pipe fittings, valves, electric equipment, fasteners, roofing materials and cement.

The report also recorded non-compliance to building standards and regulations, (13 cases at 9 per cent), inadequate structural design and overloading of the structure (36 cases at 25 per cent) and inadequate maintenance as the main reasons for building collapse in Kenya.

“The process of obtaining requisite materials are lengthy. Enforcement of non-compliance is not coordinated since three agencies in charge of construction in the country all have unique parameters,” reads the report.

The collapse of buildings in the country especially Nairobi's densely populated regions has reversed gains achieved in Kenya's construction industry that contributes an estimated seven per cent to the country's GDP.

Kenya has been in the global spotlight after the collapse of a seven-storey building in Nairobi's Huruma estate, Ngei area in April 2016.

At least 51 people died in the incident pushing the authorities to take action after public outcry.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in a bid to restore the sector authorised state agencies to undertake an audit of all buildings in Nairobi following an outcry from the public who bore the brunt of the collapse of residential apartment blocks.

It is the audit report that revealed that more than 700 buildings especially in informal settlements are at a high risk of collapsing and should be demolished.

None of the houses has been demolished and only a few vacated after the announcement.

In Nairobi alone, 58 per cent of buildings were found unfit for habitation.

In March, the government blacklisted 15 road construction companies affirming that it would be moving to residential and commercial building companies.


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