By Ogova Ondego
Published January 6, 2015
Why are buildings collapsing in Kenya, a country with well trained and experienced architects, quantity surveyors, structural engineers, real estate managers and urban planners? Why does the President of the Republic of Kenya have to demand accountability from professionals in a country with well formulated building standards and regulations that clearly indicate where and how buildings should be constructed and the means by which authorities regulate the building sector? What do the Physical Planning Act, the Public Health Act, the Building Code or even the Local Government Act say about buildings in Kenya?
Following the loss of lives and property under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Nairobi on December 16, 2014 and January 4, 2015, Kenyans are forced to ask just why property developers are in breach of the law while the relevant authorities aren’t enforcing the regulations governing the construction of buildings in urban centres.
While President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered a thorough audit of buildings in Nairobi, Evans Kidero, the Governor of Nairobi County, has suspended several senior officers and ordered investigation into the collapsed buildings.
The President has directed the Ministry of Lands and the Nairobi City County Government to conduct a comprehensive audit of all buildings in Nairobi, particularly in the high-density Eastlands area, and submit a report to him in three months.
But this appears to be a reaction to the outcry from the public who feel professionals and authorities have abdicated their role.
The intensity of environmental and economic urban problems results from rapid urbanisation and poor town planning and management. To be effective, urban management must be a self-organising system where everyone—Non-Governmental Organisations, Community-Based Organisations, professional organisations, consumer rights organizations, trade unions, property-developers—must be an actively engaged player instead of expecting the Government to do everything.
That towns are essential to economic and social wellbeing of a country isn’t in dispute. That being the case, the solution to urban ills like collapsing buildings and environmental degradation lies in greater investment in cities. A wealthy city can provide employment, infrastructure and other economic benefits to residents than a poor one. Consequently, urban managers and planners must look for ways of inviting investors to their towns through incentives like security, safety, and adequate telecommunications networks.
The problems with towns like Nairobi are their inability to provide basic infrastructure to keep pace with the rate of population change and increases in consumption. Only competent town planning and management coupled with investment from both the public and private sectors hold the key to solving urban problems.
The shortage of affordable and decent housing is no doubt one of the biggest problems in rapidly growing cities like Nairobi. This could partly explain why investors are taking short-cuts in developing houses for residents while authorities are grateful that half a loaf of bread is better than no bread at all.
For there to be affordable and decent housing in towns, experts in the real estate industry point out that experts in the build environment—architects, HVAC professionals like Snowman (http://snowman.com.au/heating-and-cooling/refrigerated-air-conditioning), quantity surveyors, structural engineers, real estate managers, physical planners, public health specialists, town planners—must be targeted as they determine the king of constructions in the country.
Architects, quantity surveyors and engineers have the duty to advise investors against unrealistic projects which stall, degrade the environment or collapse. Should they to do this and the building collapses, stalls or degrades the environment, such experts cannot escape blame as they will be assumed not to have adequately advised the investors.
Unless building industry professionals are governed by professional ethics and refuse to be manipulated by any one, buildings will continue to collapse as people are killed, property destroyed and investors give Kenya a wide berth.