Statement Issued Following Fire in Mukuru Sinai

Slum areas along the Mukuru Pipeline

Slum areas located along the Mukuru pipeline. 

For the last week we have been reporting on the events following last Monday’s explosion at Mukuru Sinai, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, where the Kenyan Federation has a strong presence. The stories coming from mainstream media have blamed everyone from the State to the slum dwellers to the Kenyan support NGO, arguing that had the slum dwellers been relocated from the area surrounding the pipeline, such a tragedy could have been avoided. This past week, the the Kenyan Pipeline Company Ltd. (KPC) went so far as to say that the Kenyan support NGO is to blame for stopping the aforementioned relocations. Affiliates in Kenya, however, have described a different reality: that the pipeline’s overflow channel drains directly into a river, a river which joins the river home to last Monday’s explosion on Sinai slum. In addition, maps presented by the Kenyan SDI alliance locate the explosion quite far from the pipeline itself, calling into question the extent to which relocations would have prevented such a tragedy at all. Getting to the truth with regard to such a tragedy is key, particularly in determining what happens from here.  And while SDI and the Kenyan Alliance surely advocate for safe and secure homes for the urban poor, we are at the same time dedicated to monitoring the situation in order to ensure that evictions do not take place in the guise of helping the urban poor.

A statement issued by The Coalition of Civil Society Organizations on Housing in Nairobi voices the position clearly: 

The Coalition of Civil Society Organizations on Housing has been working with the Government of Kenya in facilitating discussions around relocation of informal settlements from possible danger zones. A major result of such efforts is the Railway Relocation Action Plan (RAP) that now covers Mukuru and Kibera.

We believe in the urban poor’s right to adequate housing safe environment as provided for in section 43 of the constitution.

We also believe in the responsibility of the state in ensuring realization and protection of these rights as provided for in section 21 of the constitution.

In view of the above, we would like to affirm the position that residents of Sinai, just like all other Kenyans, are entitled to enjoyment of these rights.

It is the onus of the state to put in place measures that essentially ensure that the right to housing for all Kenyans is safeguarded. The fire tragedy in Mukuru Sinai puts in question the state’s commitment to these principles, especially in relation to service delivery to residents of informal settlements.

Subsequent action and utterances by state agencies now leads us to believe that there are plans to evict these residents, as well as residents from other settlements perceived to be in danger zones from their homes.

We would like to categorically state that any eviction exercise should be preceded by a comprehensive resettlement strategy that should not leave the residents in a worse off state than they were before the tragedy.

It is also our position that residents of Mukuru Sinai should be compensated. This stems from the fact that the state failed in its mandate to protect its citizens’ right to housing in a safe environment when it allowed Kenya Pipeline to discharge hazardous materials through channels that cross through densely populated areas.

It is our view that the basis of such discussions is the fact that there was indeed a petroleum spill at the Kenya Pipeline facilities. Initial statements by Kenya Pipeline’s Managing Director are an admission of this fact.

We further submit that this fuel made its way to Mukuru via a series of wastewater drains that cross through much of Industrial Area. In fact, the epicentre of the tragedy was at a point where the drain terminates into an open channel that drains into the Ngong River. It was not envisaged at any time, that any real danger to residents of Mukuru would originate from these drainage channels.

We appreciate previous attempts at relocating residents of Mukuru that were made between 2004 and 2010. But it should also be noted that this only affected residents who settled on a small section of the pipeline. These residents received a resettlement facilitation allowance ranging between 6,000 ksh and 10,000 ksh and Kenya Pipeline has since reclaimed the area in question.

A visit to the scene confirms the fact that, the main pipeline is actually some 400 meters from the disaster area and none of the burnt structures actually sits on the Kenya Pipeline reserve.

While building on top of a fuel pipeline is indeed dangerous and should be discouraged, discharging fuel through storm water drains pose equal or even far greater danger.

In light of the above, we are proposing the following measures in response to the situation.

Short-term measures: 

    • We are calling for Kenya Pipeline Company to take responsibility and immediately open discussions around possible compensation.
    • We would like for the government to put in place mechanisms that allow for reconstruction efforts. Such mechanisms should ensure uninhibited access to basic rights such as safe water and sanitation services.

Mid term measures: 

    • In the medium term, we are calling for discussions around development of upgrading options for the area.
    • If there is need for evictions, these should be in line with the eviction guidelines as contained in Sessional paper no. 9 of 2010.

Long-term measures:

    • In the long term, we are calling for development of a comprehensive disaster preparedness and response system. This should take into account the intricate nature of informal settlements, particularly those in perceived danger zones.
    • Along the same lines, we are also calling for greater involvement of slum dwellers in initiatives that seek to improve quality of life within their settlements. 

In conclusion, The Coalition of Civil Society Organizations on Housing, would once again like to express its heartfelt condolences to all those who were affected by this tragedy. We would like to strongly urge the Kenya Pipeline Corporation to take responsibility and to look into compensation for those affected. We would like the Government of Kenya to put in place mechanisms that allow for reconstruction efforts as a matter of priority.


Reflections from Mukuru Sinai: Evictions are not the answer

Slum areas along the Mukuru Pipeline

Map of slums along the Mukuru pipeline.

**Cross-posted from Muungano Support Trust blog**

By Irene Karanja, Executive Director, Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

The more I listen to the voices of the poor and to the remorseful government’s reaction to the fire in Mukuru Sinai on Monday, I see a wide gulf between these voices.

The situation of all cities and urban towns in Kenya have a similar archipelago of slums with large densities of poor citizens who live in perpetual fear of evictions or, in such cases as Sinai, fatal accidents.

Its sounds both right and sensible to look at a short-term solution to pay a year’s rent for the victims and then the prevention of another tragedy can be done later. However, the experiences of many countries is that displacement is not a solution. The solution is to improve existing settlements with upgrading programs that address very fundamental issues of the city, such as land tenure and access to basic services for the poor.

It would be strategic for the government to sit back and reflect on aggregating the costs of slum upgrading instead of making small pieces of solutions that do not necessarily lead to a bigger solution. Maybe to make this picture clearer I will quote my post-graduate lecturer who said “It’s more expensive to buy cigarettes one-by-one than to buy the whole package. The cost is not one-twentieth of the cigarette box, it’s much more than that,” -Prof. M. Smolka. 

In order for government upgrading programs to successfully run in Kenya, many things have to change in major affiliated agencies in government. This task will not be a comfortable or easy. For example, in the Mukuru belt of slums, land ownership patterns are a maze of confusion. Land is owned by layers of owners who may or may not be known to residents. In major slums in Kenya, thousands of families have lived on the same parcels of land for more than 40 years. New generations, up to the third generation, have been born on these parcels of land. For upgrading programs to take place, security of tenure for these Kenyans must be resolved sooner rather than later. The poor must be freed from the insecurity of the tenure situation.

A train rolls through Kibera

In 2004, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Federation of Slum Dwellers of Kenya, challenged the authorities traditional ways of thinking, which asks: “What should we do to remove these vijijis?” Through the support of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, local authorities attended an exchange to India to learn from the Indian government how to resettle the poor within the confines of their access to the livelihoods and services.

Upon returning to Kenya, a journey to resettle 10,000 households residing on the railway reserve in Mukuru and Kibera began. Communities in these two large slums voluntarily got involved in the enumerations of all affected households as well as the mapping of all the structures.

A group of slum upgrading experts comprising of the community members, sociologists, lawyers, engineers, surveyors, architects and community organisers, sat with the local authorities and the Kenya Railways Corporation to design a solution for resettlement. The resettlement project has been approved by government and the financeer (The World Bank), an implementation starts this year.

The unfortunate outcome of this disaster is the general call for slums to be removed immediately from dangerous places – which is largely where slums are situated, thanks to scarcity of available land – without any serious thought given to where slum dwellers might be relocated to, and how this would effect these communities in the long term. Finding alternatives to eviction and relocation is possible, so long as the people on the ground are brought into the process, and the political will is there. Let’s make sure, then, that evictions do not take place now in the guise of helping the urban poor.