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Building standards must be adhered to

By Justus Nyangaya | May 9th 2016
Building that collapsed in Huruma Estate, Nairobi {Photo Courtesy}

When news filtered in that innocent Kenyans had yet again lost their lives in a collapsed building in Nairobi’s Huruma estate, I was overcome with a sense of outrage on behalf of the victims.

These were men, women and children whose only mistake was to unknowingly reside in a substandard building, which should never have been constructed in the first place.

Like other Nairobi residents, they must have had dreams, hopes and reasons to struggle for a better future.

But on that fateful Friday evening, some dreams were cut short and hopes dashed when heavy rains forced the rickety, humongous structure to tumble down under its own weight.

Instead of coming home to the warm embrace of their children and family, parents, kith and kin were met by falling debris, darkness and the smell of death. Their world had changed, forever.

Lives had been lost, property destroyed and scores rendered cold and homeless. The victims were failed by the system, the very system that is supposed to promote their well-being, protect them and their properties and create an enabling environment for the fulfilment of dreams and aspirations.

There are questions that need to be answered; about the process and people involved in certifying buildings as fit for residing in; of acts of commission and omission that led to the tragedy; and of steps that the Government will take to prosecute and punish the guilty and ensure that this does not happen again.

It is important to note that buildings have collapsed in the past due to failure by the authorities to enforce standards.

The media covered these tragedies and the public expressed anger. Then the dust died down. The country moved on, sadly. No lessons were learnt and no one was held responsible.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Governor of Nairobi, Dr Evans Kidero, the two men on whom the ultimate responsibility for the tragedy falls, visited the site of the collapsed building and talked tough.

The National Construction Authority, a government agency, for its part blamed lack of prosecutorial powers for the tragedy, implying that there are other substandard buildings being put up but which they can’t do anything about!

What we need from the President and the governor is an assurance that such a disaster shall never recur.

I understand the challenges that are involved, but the reason we elect leaders is so that they can provide leadership in difficult situations.

It is no longer enough to have tough laws and numerous institutions, some with overlapping responsibilities.

The problem we are facing is that of impunity.

It is the failure to prosecute and punish public officials who break the law.

It is also the failure by the State to live up to its obligation of ensuring all Kenyans live in security, peace and dignity.

At Amnesty International, we have for years campaigned for the right to adequate housing, especially for those living in informal settlements.

Our members and supporters have fought against forced eviction of slum residents, insisting that they be treated with dignity.

The Huruma tragedy comes at a time I and around 25 global experts on housing are assembled in New York to discuss the New Urban Agenda leading towards the Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, scheduled for October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.

States are reiterating their commitments to the goal of improving living and working conditions on an equitable and sustainable basis.

The aim is to ensure everyone has adequate housing that is healthy, safe, secure and affordable.

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