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Property market loses Sh60 billion to flooding

By Mwangi Muiruri | May 7th 2020
Houses at Bamburi , Kisauni in Mombasa County

Major stakeholders in the property sector are warning that the continued flooding in major towns and cities could see developers count huge losses estimated at Sh60 billion annually.

This presents new challenges to the real estate sector occasioned by increased costs that eat into the developers’ profit margin, as they seek their own ways to dispose of storm water, drain septic tanks as well as improvise ways to secure their properties from floods.

The losses are experienced in the form of collapsed or sinking buildings as well as landslides that render property market unattractive during rainy seasons, not forgetting the disease burden associated with storm water.

The government is accused of only giving lip service to the loss of lives and properties occasioned by floods -- leaving the stakeholders on their own to count their losses.

Mairura Omwenga, the chair of Town and County Planners Association of Kenya (TCPAK), says the national and county governments stand accused of negligence, especially in offering developers sewer disposal infrastructure.

He says the country is only treated to beautiful policy papers and honey-coated verbal declarations on drainage systems in urban areas.

This, he noted, has seen billions of shillings set aside for the projects, only for the cycle to remain the same, year in year out.

 “We are not short of legal girds to have us stem flooding in the property market. We do indeed have a national spatial plan (2015) and national land-use policy (2017) both prepared by the Ministry of Lands’ Physical Planning Department,” he says.

Omwenga said key laws fail to identify and address flooding as a major national issue.

“The plans and policy documents are shallow and have no specific measures that address flooding as a major challenge, both in rural and urban areas,” he says.

He decried the unwillingness to implement the numerous laws, noting that plans and policies on floods should have sorted out the mess.

He stated that inadequate national or county budgetary allocation for development and infrastructure dims effort to improve drainage and control flooding.

Devolution and Asals Development Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa admits there are “hollow aspects in various laws that ought to address flooding in the property market.”

He says the sector loses billions of shillings as well as lives during flooding, adding that there ought to be a more collaborative unity between national and county governments in setting up funds to actualise the dream of an effective drainage system.

Mr Wamalwa said the laws and policies that were to be relied upon to give the property market a drainage system were formulated in 2000.

“However, they do not offer developers and investors any meaningful reprieve since, by this time, so much land had been demarcated illegally, water catchment areas encroached on, drainage system leeway grabbed and developed….this kind of confusion that we need to first address,” he says.

High-profile demolitions

CS Wamalwa observed that the government is in the process of reclaiming all drainage system pathways that have seen high profile demolitions of structures on such land.

This, he noted, won’t be easy since the cartels that were behind the illegal encroachment into water-catchment areas, as well as developments on drainage systems, fight back.

“In other instances, the process has resulted in a humanitarian crisis after scores of innocent Kenyans who have either bought or rented houses in the developments are caught up in the fights between the government and cartels,” he said.

“In avoiding cases of dehumanising Kenyans, the government is bound to go slow on such reclamation.”

Alfred Opere from the Meteorology Department at the University of Nairobi says enforcement of regulations governing settlement in zones designated as flood-prone has been a major problem in Kenya.

“Enforcement is weak; partly due to weak institutional capabilities as well as humanitarian considerations given this rot has gone on for long; where the illegalities are older than the laws and policies in place,” he says.

He says lack of coordination between various State and non-State agencies has resulted in wastage of resources and duplication of efforts.

Opere added that lopsided development has also led to overcrowding in urban areas, straining the existing housing, health, water supply, sewage and educational and recreational facilities - leading to flooding.

This is because most facilities in urban areas were designed to cater for a small elite population during colonial times.

Lack of housing and inability to access more decent dwelling places, he noted, has encouraged the development of slums in areas, which are more liable to flooding - making the urban population more vulnerable to the menace.

The Council of Governors (CoG) says it is liaising with the central government to come up with a work plan to tame flooding, especially in urban centres.

“It is a shame that even the capital city and other key tourist attraction centres suffer from flooding. We have a history of devastating flooding but we have been slow to learn our lessons,” Deputy CoG chairman, Mwangi wa Iria told Home & Away.

He said the CoG estimates property losses at between Sh40 and Sh60 billion annually due to flooding, and this has adverse effects on the economy and lives.

This, he noted, does not include the people who lose family members, savings, property and economic opportunities.

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