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Living in the River Lands – Flooding in Kibera

We’re sticking with the watery theme this week as we continue to look at recent game changing developments in Kibera. This time it’s flooding; a destructive force that disrupts and displaces people in Kibera each year, and overlaps with the intractable issues of land ownership, open space, infrastructure development and evictions.

In Kibera the cheapest rents are found along the rivers and streams where the risk of flooding is highest. Its well known that that numerous structures are washed away each year, however the poorest and most vulnerable residents are willing to risk their lives and assets to have a chance of staying in the city, and are not always aware of the level of risk. Flooding can destroy the limited assets of these poor households, halt economic activity, contaminate water supply and lead to outbreaks of disease and displacement.

As a case in point check out these photos below. The first is from mid-January this year when the new sewerage (see previous blog) was going in alongside the stream in Kisumu Ndogo village, the second is from the same point just the othwe week, and shows new structures being built over the (nearly) finished sewerage, just adjacent to the river.

Cleared houses and new sewerage in Kisumu Ndogo village in January 2015. Image: Joe Mulligan (KDI)

Cleared houses and new sewerage in Kisumu Ndogo village in January 2015. Image: Joe Mulligan (KDI)


New structures go up over the recently buried sewerage pipes in February 2015. Image: Pascal Kipemboi (KDI)

There is no question that the people who choose to stay in these houses will face a very real threat to their health, assets, structures, and even their lives within a couple of months. As the rains pick up in March and April the small stream pictured will quickly swell to several times its current size as the impermeable Kibera rooftops and ground surface feed the torrent with every drop of rain that falls. The land “owners” who have reclaimed the spaces laid bare by the sewerage project may not be fully transparent with potential renters as to the conditions and risk of flooding in the rainy season. Others who already know the dangers may be willing to take the risk.

Kibera's impervious surfaces lead to a very rapid runoff and build up of surface water. Graphic: Jessica Bremner/Joe Mulligan (KDI)

Kibera’s impervious surfaces lead to a very rapid runoff and build up of surface water. Graphic: Jessica Bremner/Joe Mulligan (KDI)

But the exposure of people in Kibera to the risk of flooding doesn’t just extend to those living by the watercourses. Everyone in the settlement faces the impacts of localized flooding due to a lack of adequate drainage. This includes the destruction of property, the nightmare of muddy access ways and perhaps most damaging, the health implications of heavily polluted water throughout the settlement. In 2013 KDI conducted a survey on access to water and sanitation of over 1,300 households in Gatwekera and Laini Saba villages; 1 in 5 households reported children that had experienced diarrhoea within the previous two weeks.

Building Urban Flood Resilience – a new KDI initiative in 2015 and 2016

In 2015 and 2016 KDI will be working together with residents to build the resilience of communities and local governance in Kibera to adapt and respond to flooding. The project is grounded in the principal that people in Kibera can and must be involved in identifying solutions to the challenges they face, alongside governmental agencies responsible for flood risk reduction. The work is predicated on an in-depth consultation and participatory analysis in the next 4 months with community groups, households and local government, with the aim of not just gathering information but taking action.

The longer term objective of this project is to create a “toolkit” that can be used to inform flood risk reduction strategies in Kibera (and ultimately in other informal settlements) while incorporating local perspectives. The toolkit will comprise information from the community level, flood hazard mapping developed through hydrological and hydraulic modelling and physical surveying, vulnerability and flood risk assessment, and policy prescriptions for applying the toolkit in Kibera and elsewhere.

The project is funded by the Swiss Re Foundation and is a next phase in KDI’s work on bringing together the issues of public space, water, sanitation, flooding and watershed remediation, from the perspectives of community, but also from the perspective of supporting appropriate governmental engagement. The work is being led by KDI and undertaken in partnership with the Urban Rivers and Rehabilitation Program at the Ministry of Environment, BuroHappold Engineering and International Alert.

For more information see the links below and do get in contact with Joe Mulligan (joe@kounkuey.org) and Jamilla Harper (jamilla@kounkuey.org) should you need any further information.

Further Reading:

KDI Urban Flooding – Project Overview

Swiss Re Foundation – KDI Project information 

“Rainy Season in Kibera Brings Misery, Destruction and Opportunity” Next City article on flooding in Kibera (featuring KDI’s ‘Site 03’) 

140331 Swiss Re Final Progress Report LQ (email) – KDI’s final report for Sites 04/05/06 which highlights many of the issues faced at a local scale that we address in this project. 

Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management in the 21st Century The World Bank; (Jha et al, 2012)

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