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Fire tragedy in the Sinai slum of Nairobi not unexpected

Published: 16 September 2011 Updated: 24 June 2014

A fire tragedy in the Sinai slum of Nairobi on August 12, 2011 has put sharp focus on the rapid and unplanned growth of Kenyan urban centres. Around 95 people have so far died in the accident.

Sinai is one of nearly 190 slum settlements in Nairobi. Nationally, about 30  to 40 per cent of the urban population lives in slums. The proportion for Nairobi is estimated at about 50 per cent of the approximately 3.5 million people living in the city.

Kenyan slums are characterized by extremely high population densities, little or no municipal services, poor infrastructure, insecurity and generally deplorable living conditions. Sanitation situation is particularly poor with as many as 700 people sharing one toilet. Women and children face unique problems especially related to security. One defining characteristic of Kenyan slums is insecure land tenure. As a result, residents have little incentives to improve their dwellings, municipalities do not provide services and private sector lacks the motivation to invest in those areas.

Municipalities and central government have invested little in planning for the fast rising urban population, estimated at nearly twice the national average. The increasing population is mainly absorbed in slums and informal settlements. Little land is reserved to accommodate the increasing population. Legally, most residents of informal settlements are squatters. The settlements are usually located on environmentally fragile areas or dangerous locations on public utility way leaves.

The Sinai Slum

The Sinai slum is home to about 15,000 people and mainly provides labour to Nairobi’s industrial area. The land on which the slum is located is owned by the Kenya Pipeline Company. The oil pipeline connecting Mombasa to Nairobi and Uganda passes through the area. Shanty homes, mainly constructed of timber and iron sheets, are built along or on top of the pipeline.  Past attempts to remove the settlers have failed because the government did not provide the poor residents with alternative settlements. It has been acknowledged for as long time that a disaster could easily happen as fuel pipes burst often and residents scoop fuel from the spillages. The recent disaster happened when the pipeline burst and residents attempted to fetch the fuel. About 95 people have been confirmed dead.

Sweden’s Urban Support in Kenya

Sweden is one of the major donors to the urban sector in Kenya. The urban programme includes elaborate support to policy development, slum upgrading and community empowerment. The aim is to develop a conducive policy environment for urban development, including slum upgrading,  build the institutional and planning capacity of local authorities, remove impediments such as land tenure insecurity and empower slum communities to negotiable for viable solutions to their problems and participate in programmes impact that their lives.

Swedish support consists of three programmes that together address core challenges in urban development:

  • National Urban Policy Project
  • Kenya Municipal Programme and Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Programme
  • the Civil Society Urban Development Programme

Total funding is approximately SEK 222 over three years.


Page owner: Department for Africa

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