Kenya: City demolitions highlight urban-rural aid gap

world | Nov 30, 2011 | By IRIN 

Several demolitions of housing near airports in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have not only displaced hundreds of families but challenged the humanitarian response in urban emergencies.

Amid criticism of the way the demolitions were carried out, humanitarian workers say relief aid for urban crises was often not pre-positioned, unlike in rural-based emergencies.

"There is a gap in responding to humanitarian challenges and needs in urban settings in Kenya; including populations displaced by demolitions and evictions," said Choice Okoro, head of communications and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Kenya (OCHA).

"The populations affected and displaced by the Mitumba slum demolitions [in mid-November] are yet to receive any humanitarian assistance. This is due mainly to the fact that traditional humanitarian response systems are tailored and geared towards rural emergencies," Okoro said. "What this means for Kenya is that while more fatalities and displacements have been recorded in urban disasters in 2011, response strategies and priorities have targeted rural districts in the country."

She said 3,025 households were displaced following the demolition of Mitumba slums, near Wilson Airport, which borders Nairobi National Park. The demolitions, which have also taken place in other parts of the city, such as Eastleigh, Kiang’ombe, KPA slums and Embakasi, were part of an operation to reclaim government land and clear structures near vital installations.

"The lack of adequate low-cost housing for the poor is leading to rapid increases in... informal settlements. There are currently over 168 informal settlements in Nairobi, home to over two million people. [They] constitute 55 percent of the city's total population and yet they are crowded on 5 percent of the total land area."

As a result, Okoro said, thousands have encroached on unoccupied land, including road reserves, railway lines, forests and public utilities.

"Whereas there exists advocacy on the legality and due processes for these demolitions and evictions, more planning and preparedness needs to happen to reduce the humanitarian impact of these demolitions and evictions," Okoro said. "This will include ensuring that there are clear plans for resettling populations affected."

Bulldozed

Kamau*, owner of a block of flats in Eastleigh, told IRIN on 28 November: "The bulldozers did not spare anything in their path; the worst thing was that there was no notice; many of us were caught unawares."

The demolition of buildings in Eastleigh started on 21 November.


Photo: UNICEF
An official says city residents have encroached on unoccupied land, including road reserves, railway lines, forests and public utilities due to lack of affordable housing (file photo)
Mohamud Ahmed, a student in Eastleigh, told IRIN: "I have decided to move even before the flat we are renting is [hit]; it is one of those that has been marked for demolition. The building has 38 flats and many people are moving out; even those with nowhere to go. It is better to move your property rather than wait until the bulldozers arrive.

"Perhaps the landlords were warned; many of those whose homes were destroyed had no notice, they just woke up to the demolitions," he said. "It seems nobody cares about our plight; I appeal to the government to help by informing people like us of when these demolitions are about to take place."

A parliamentary committee has been established to investigate the demolitions, with committee chairman Mutava Musymi saying the manner in which they were carried out done was inhumane.

"It’s not about votes, it is not about politics, it is about the people," Musymi said during a committee session.

On 28 November, the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner, Njoroge Ndirangu, told the parliamentary committee that the provincial administration was implementing a government directive when it oversaw the demolitions.

Asked if he had considered the health, safety and education of the evicted, Ndirangu said he had expected all government departments to ensure that no one suffered during the demolitions.

Ndirangu said the Kenya Airports Authority, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, the Kenya Air Operators Association and the Nairobi City Council had written to Internal Security expressing concern at the dangers posed by buildings near airports.

“I was presented with evidence that these places were in the flight path and were a danger to lives,” Ndirangu told the committee.

The plight of those rendered homeless in Eastleigh was aggravated by ongoing heavy rains.

Johnestone Kibet, whose rented flat was one of those demolished in Eastleigh, told IRIN: "The rains made it difficult to salvage the little that we could, electronic goods just got damaged. It did not help that some onlookers took advantage of the rains to grab whatever they could."

Kibet added that notice of demolition or eviction should not only be served on landlords, some of whom did not pass on the message to tenants. "If we had known our building was one of those to be demolished, we would have moved earlier," he said.

"We have nowhere to go, the rains are destroying whatever we salvaged," another resident said.

In a statement, the Kenya Airports Authority maintained it had notified residents to vacate the areas.

Dominic Ngigi, KAA head of corporate affairs, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying the demolitions were done purely on the basis of safety and security of the airports.

"If an accident were to occur, loss of life would be horrific and the blame will be on the government. This is a disaster waiting to happen," said Ngigi.

*Not his real name

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