Lang'ata fire: 'Not enough water' to tackle Kenya blaze


A resident reacts after running out of water as they attempt to extinguish a fire that broke out at the Kijiji slum in Southlands estate of Nairobi, Kenya January 28, 2018Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

A man reacts as the water runs out of water as he fights a fire

Thousands of people have reportedly been left homeless after fire swept through a Kenyan slum on Sunday evening, killing at least three.

Residents used sewage water in a desperate attempt to douse the flames which had engulfed their homes in the Lang’ata area of the capital, Nairobi.

The MP for the area, Nixon Korir, said fire engines which turned up to help did not have enough water.

The fire was put out on Monday morning.

It is not known what started the blaze, which began at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Sunday and continued for 10 hours.


‘A spectacular failure’

Ferdinand Omondi, BBC Africa, Nairobi

Just three months ago, the picture of a beaming President Uhuru Kenyatta , testing the hose-pipe of a new fire engine, flanked by Nairobi Governor Mike “Sonko” Mbuvi, was re-shared widely as Kenyans were jolted back into the reality of the country’s hopeless disaster preparedness.

The governor shared the picture on Twitter last October, when he said the newly-elected Nairobi County government had acquired 24 new fire engines. Mr Mbuvi tweeted: “This equipment will go a long way in curbing fire situations that have been witnessed in the recent past.”

But in Nairobi’s first major fire since then, the fire department failed terribly. Again. But why?

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Reuters

Image copyright
Reuters

Not for the first time, the fire engines ran out of water. And when they needed to refill, they had to make a 20km (12 mile) round trip back to the city centre.

Pius Masai, chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee, said the area has no fire hydrants. Residents desperately scooped up any liquids they could lay their hands on, including a sewer, but they could only do so much.

Only four or fire engines were deployed. That was too small a number for the inferno, which reportedly left nearly 6,000 people homeless.

Questions will be raised about why the authorities did not release more engines to the scene. Mr Masai was caught on camera appealing for more engines.

The military did not help, even though the Langata Barracks is located barely a kilometre from the area. The Kenyan military usually helps civilians out in times of disaster. It is unclear why they could not deploy this time, when they could literally see the fire from their gate.

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Reuters

Image copyright
Reuters

Informal settlements like Kijiji suffer from a lack of planning, with crammed houses and no through ways. The fire engines could not navigate beyond the edges of the settlement. This has always been an issue when fires occur. But city planners have never really followed up on the matter beyond the rhetoric and inquests.

Police are investigating the cause of the fire.

But Kenyans are furious that once again, a disaster has caught the authorities flat-footed. Some are cynically observing that during the post-election chaos late last year, dozens of police water cannons were used to disperse demonstrators – and they never ran out of water.

The Nairobi governor has many questions to answer. He hasn’t spoken yet.

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Reuters



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