Current risk management approaches in Nairobi

The Nairobi skyline
Victoria Chengo

The Nairobi Risk Hub has since inception closely engaged the Nairobi County Council Government (NCCG) in a bid to understand the existing risk management approaches in Nairobi. Even though there have been some recent developments within the Nairobi government, where some essential services such as Health, Transport, Planning and Development, and Public Works, and sanitation have been transferred to the newly established National Government led Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), initial data indicates that disaster management and related policies in the city are either ineffective, non-existent or still developing. The city’s approach to disaster risk has been focused on emergency response, which has exposed the policy gaps in terms of the recorded economic as well as social impacts. These impacts range from loss of lives and livelihoods, damage to property, and disruption of basic and essential services to the city residents.

Currently, the NCCG is exploring avenues through which it can comprehensively integrate risk management into its development planning through reviewing the Nairobi Disaster Management Act (2015), and the formulation of the disaster management plan and policy which is at draft stage. This policy action has been necessitated by the uncontained disaster risks, which have proven to escalate the socio-economic and environmental impacts on the city and its inhabitants. Through the Nairobi Risk Hub research project as well as other DRR actors, the city government will be facilitated and informed to better address the multiple risks that the city residents are exposed to. Even though fires and floods are the most common disasters facing the city, the existing evidence highlights that terror attacks, motor vehicle accidents and collapsing buildings, among others, pose additional risks to the city residents.

The COVID-19 response in Kenya has exposed the city's limited capacity to effectively detect, plan, and mitigate single and multiple disaster risks. The first COVID-19 case in Kenya was detected in Nairobi in mid-March. In less than a month, cases had already spread to other cities, although Nairobi has remained the country’s epicenter for the disease, followed closely by Mombasa. Even though COVID-19 strategic containment measures were put in place by the national government, (for example cessation of movement in and out of the two major cities) the overall situation in the country has continued to deteriorate (loss of lives and economic hardships). Had there been a functional disaster management policy with defined, tried, and tested standard operating procedures, effective measures would have been taken in good time to save the country from the reported adversities as well as the prolonged uncertainty the country is experiencing.

The multiplicity of risks and disaster has continued to devastate Nairobi livelihoods, especially for the urban poor. While the city continues to face the COVID-19 emergency, several fires, unprecedented flooding, as well as other disease outbreaks such as Cholera have concurrently been experienced in Nairobi and across the country at large. For instance, a fire incident occurred over the last week of June. Interestingly, the city is well equipped with fire engines but with a low human resource capacity: there are less than 100 firefighters in Nairobi, yet the scale/size of the city requires at least a thousand. The lack of adequate state funded social safety net programs has further exacerbated the situation, by increasing the already high dependency ratio among the city dwellers. For instance, the lack of tenant protection rights has seen many low middle/middle income residents who lost their sources of income as a result of the pandemic evicted from their rental homes with no legal redress. The ongoing policy and capacity analysis supported by the Nairobi Risk Hub to establish a situational analysis is therefore timely in facilitating research evidence to address these issues: the vision of the Nairobi Risk Hub is to generate research evidence geared towards helping the city of Nairobi move from crisis/emergency response to integrated, proactive urban planning to enhance disaster risk preparedness and management.

Photo credit: Flickr, Ste