The daily crisis of living in informal settlements #SinaiFireTragedy

The Daily Nation and the Standard today both ran 11 page spreads on the fire is the Sinai area of Mukuru slum yesterday. Mukuru is a sprawling informal settlement, stretching the length of Nairobi’s industrial area. Access to the area is facilitated by roads that lead along the backs of factories and warehouses and industrial worksites. The dangers of living in Mukuru slum are apparent as factories bellow out smoke, trucks carrying hazardous materials rumble by and pipes and electrical towers dot the landscape.

Despite the environmental hazards, the push and pull factors that drive rural-urban migration and the expansion of informal settlements around the world are at work every day. Kenyans move to the countries’ cities in search of employment, education, exposure and opportunities that are not available in rural areas. On arriving in ‘the big city’ the lack of adequate, low-cost housing means most Kenyans will find a home in one of the informal settlements – built on marginal land, often close to swamps, dams, rivers (Mathare), dump sites (Dandora) or industrial areas.

Our health is closely related to the social and physical environment in which we live. The environment in an informal settlement is directly related to long-term health problems such as chronic respiratory infections or diarrheal diseases. One direct short-term health impact (and one major cause of mortality among residents in informal settlements) is fire and other accidents that are common due to the proximity of houses to one another, the materials used to build homes and cook within them, and proximity to electrical and industrial hazards.

It is not surprising that several journalists have in the past highlighted the dangers of living close to the gas pipeline in Sinai. It’s also not surprising that the residents in the area were warned of the dangers but chose to stay in the area. When the informal, marginal areas are all you can afford, there’s not much choice.

So what’s the solution? Mugo Kibati, Director General of Kenya’s Vision2030 has suggested that the Vision for a Kenya in 2030 is a country without slums. But what’s the process by which Kenya gets there? How does the government ensure safe and adequate housing for the millions of Kenyans living in informal settlements? Let’s ask the residents themselves and brainstorm solutions together.

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