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Fixing Nairobi’s flooding problems ought to be part of housing plan

By Ken Opalo | March 24th 2018
Canals, storm drains, levees and other infrastructure arose with the sole purpose of taming water. Photo: Courtesy

Every time it rains, Nairobi floods. Nairobians then complain about the lack of proper storm drains and the fact that many buildings have been put up on riparian reserves.

And like clockwork, these complaints are often met by official statements about trash filling the few drains that we have. The city then collectively forgets the problem, that is, until the next rains.

 It is worth asking, however, what kind of investments it will take to completely contain our waters. And before we answer the question it is worth remembering that the technology required to tame rain waters in the city is as old as human history.

Canals, storm drains, levees, and other infrastructure arose with the sole purpose of taming water. In Nairobi, instead of constantly complaining about riparian land and the trashing of our storm drains, it is time for a complete rethinking of water management in the city.

For starters, perhaps we could consider expanding Nairobi River – complete with lock gates and a wider channel – in order to make it the backbone of the city’s rain water management system.

It is time we stopped treating Nairobi River as an open sewer and devised ways of creating riverfront property on its banks. Second, the city requires a completely new storm water system.

Such a system ought to be constructed along the major roads to collect all the runoff water and direct it to the river. The same system can provide channels for routing water and sewer lines, as well as the wiring for electric and telecommunications wires (insulated, of course). This would obviate the constant digging of the city sidewalks that has turned significant parts of the city into an eyesore.

Third, a public works project of this magnitude would create the opportunity for re-zoning the entire city. The project would lock in existing building patterns and structures through accommodation and rationalisation. At the same time, the new infrastructure would give the city government the chance to design, from scratch, the layout of new developments. This would ensure that any new buildings are erected to code, and are serviced not only by the relevant infrastructure connections (power, water and sewer lines) but also have proper storm water management systems.

This ought to be music to the ears of a interest groups like politicians, architects and businessmen and women in the construction sector. And finally, projects of this magnitude would create jobs and demand for materials in the construction sector. This would also have a non-trivial multiplier effect in other sectors of the economy beyond the construction industry.

It is also worth noting that a complete redesign of waste water management system and the associated infrastructure would be complementary to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s goal of building 500,000 housing units over the next five years. Instead of building houses only to find ourselves helpless in the face of floods, why not plan ahead and use the current momentum to fix the flooding problems once and for all?


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