Friday, January 30, 2009



Commentary & Analysis
Friday, January 30, 2009

After the 1998 terrorist attack on the US embassy in Nairobi in which 250 people were killed, it was acknowledged that the country’s level of disaster preparedness was extremely poor. Later, in 2006 a building collapsed at the junction of River Road and Ronald Ngala Street and again it was reiterated that the level of disaster preparedness was very poor.

On Wednesday, a popular mega store was gutted down by a fierce inferno in Nairobi’s Central Business District just 100 metres away from the city’s fire station, prompting Nairobi Metropolitan minister Mutula Kilonzo to lament about the sad situation that is the country’s level of disaster preparednes. It is now beyond doubt that the powers that be have not learned from past tragedies.

What we are asking is, what happened to the national disaster management authority that was formed sometime back to coordinate and boost the level of disaster preparedness? The last time we heard of it, it was housed at Nyayo House and it had began receiving funding and technical assistance from donors. Can someone tell Kenyans what this team is doing before another tragedy occurs? We raise this legitimate concern because this country is in the habit of suffering from collective amnesia.

It appears that there is either no proper continuity programme from one government to another, or if at all there exists one such programme, people in authority simply don’t care. This brings us to two incidents that demonstrate how lethargic we are in implementing things we have committed ourselves to. Sometime last year, Planning minister Wycliffe Oparanya surprised many Kenyans when he candidly admitted that the goals set out in Vision 2030 could be a pipe dream because the government and development agencies have not fulfilled their financial pledges necessary to accomplish the Vision.

Then, before he had done anything, Prof Kithure Kindiki resigned from the position of Secretary for National Reconciliation and Cohesion citing lack of commitment and facilitation to enable the office execute its functions in view of the post-election violence that drove the country to the brink of total collapse. Upon tendering his resignation, Prof Kindiki noted that once the coalition government had been formed and politicians had shared out cabinet positions among themselves, it appeared that everybody forgot that the country needed some national healing because the government did nothing to enable his office to function.

And finding himself without anything to do, he decided to quit instead of earning a salary without anything to show for it. We want to believe that what happened to Prof Kindiki’s office is the same fate that has befallen the National Disaster Management Authority. We believe, and correctly so, that the idea for proper disaster preparedness died the moment the 1998 bombing tragedy got out of media headlines.

Otherwise how does the government explain how a supermarket located in the capital’s CBD can be gutted down only 100 metres away from the fire station that sends help too late. During Wednesday’s fire disaster, it transpired that one of the impediments in responding to the fire was the inability for fire fighters to get to the scene due to traffic congestion. This is a pointer to poor planning and the failure by City Council authorities to create corridors of tranquility in which emergency personnel can operate effectively in case of a disaster.

This is the same problem we had in 1998 and it appears that we have not learned any lessons from that tragedy. All these conceded, it is our view that time for rhetoric about what has to be done for this country to be disaster-prepared is now over and that the government and all its private sector partners must now start walking the talk. It is important for the government to put in place proper disaster management systems in order to boost investor confidence.

The government, through the Prime Minister’s office, is organising an international conference on the “Kenya we want”. In this conference, the government hopes to showcase the investment portfolio available locally and thereby attract foreign investment. But it will be difficult to attract investors when they know that they risk their lives and investments due to poor disaster preparedness. No one wants to invest in a deathtrap. We therefore urge the government to put its act together and ensure that this country is safe, and that in case of an emergency, people and property have a high chance of being rescued.