Poor planning to blame for Nairobi flood nightmare

Flooded houses in Kware area, Embakasi South, May 3, 2024. [Robert Tomno, Standard]

An adage warns that failing to plan is akin to planning to fail. Surveying the current tumult ravaging our nation, it becomes painfully apparent that a glaring lack of foresight plagues our stormwater drainage systems.

Cast your gaze upon Nairobi and the neglect of planning becomes starkly evident. Each county boasts its own planning department, tasked with ensuring that essential infrastructure - water, sewerage, power, and roads - is in place before the erection of any edifice.

Alas, these departments have devolved into little more than checkpoints, where progress hinges on the exchange of bribes. Legend has it that in 1973, Singapore sought inspiration from Nairobi's master plan for the ensuing 25 years. The blueprint, replete with transport networks including trams and underground railways, was lent to Singapore, where it blossomed into the blueprint for a modern metropolis.

After a quarter-century, Singapore returned to Nairobi, anticipating reciprocal enlightenment. Instead, they beheld an urban quagmire, a far cry from the orderly city envisioned in the master plan. Each re-zoning endeavour, transforming once low-density enclaves like Westlands, Kileleshwa, Lavington, Upper Hill and Kilimani into high-density hubs, exemplifies our shortsightedness.

Before granting such permissions, infrastructure should be bolstered to accommodate the burgeoning populace. Yet, roads, sewers, water, and electricity systems designed for single dwellings strain under the weight of hundreds.

True foresight dictates that planners anticipate a city or town's evolution over the next half-century, crafting master plans to guide development within these parameters. Yet, burgeoning towns sprout haphazardly, consuming surrounding lands without forethought.

Once-fertile agricultural tracts are swiftly re-zoned for residential use, devoid of requisite amenities. Parcels are subdivided ad infinitum, devoid of coordination or infrastructure planning. Unchecked industrialisation further compounds the chaos, with factories coexisting uneasily with schools and homes.

The deluge drowning Nairobi lays bare our folly. Blaming the rain belies our culpability, for our unchecked greed drives us to encroach upon natural waterways, heedless of the consequences.

Former leaders, tasked with safeguarding our environment, instead proposed diverting rivers to accommodate construction - a blinkered solution doomed to fail. This shortsightedness extends to our failure to harness nature's bounty, be it rain or sunlight.

Lamentably, we lack a comprehensive stormwater harvesting system, squandering a resource that could alleviate our perennial water shortages. Rainfall, predictable and preventable, should not provoke emergency responses but necessitate long-term planning.

Our nation's leaders must awaken from their slumber, forsaking reactive measures for proactive strategies. The spectre of drought looms as ominously as that of floods, demanding foresight and preparation.

In conclusion, the failure to plan heralds our inevitable downfall. Yet, if we heed the lessons of our past missteps, there remains hope for a future where foresight triumphs over shortsightedness, and preparedness prevails over chaos.

-Mr Njora is a lawyer and an expert in property law. [email protected]

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