We have recently experienced a string of fires in Nairobi. Fires are not uncommon; however, in the eight weeks I have only seen two, both of which occurred in this past week. This post will contain mostly photos with a bit of text to explain what happened.
The first fire occurred last Monday night in Westlands right next to the Undugu office. We are experiencing electricity rationing in Nairobi; Monday nights we have no electricity in Westlands. The next day as Barbara and I were approaching the office with Iain Guest, the director of the Advocacy Project, we noticed smoke. As we approached the intersection next to the office we saw that the entire market had burnt down.
The market was an informal settlement composed of aluminum shacks. I assumed that during the power outage, someone had accidentally knocked over an oil lamp; however, it now seems far more likely that the City Council burnt it down. Westlands is considered far too nice a neighborhood to have such a market. Apparently, the slum/market area close to a friends office was bulldozed that same week by the City Council.
In any case, the market is gone. Tuesday and Wednesday people stood around where their shops used to be, unsure what to do. Since then they have started rebuilding, but it is only a mater of time until the market is destroyed again.
The next day, Wednesday, we were in Kibera, taking Iain around to meet some of the Street Associations in the area when we stumbled upon a crowd. Kibera is experiencing the brunt of the electricity shortages, they only have power a couple days a week. Wednesday there was no power. Somehow a fire started in someones home, and it quickly spread to the adjoining houses. We are not sure how the fire started, but this time it is far more likely that the cause can be attributed to the power outage.
A fire in Kibera, or any slum for that matter, is a huge problem because the houses are built practically on top of each other. If one house were to catch fire, hundred of homes could be destroyed. For this reason people living or working around the houses on fire quickly emptied their homes of all their belongings.
To prevent the fire from spreading, the houses next to the ones on fire are torn down.
Here you can see men on top of the houses that were on fire, beating down the the walls to smother the flames.
Women stood with all their belongings which were emptied from their homes.
No fire trucks showed up, and even if they had there was no where to pump water from. Instead, people passed buckets of water to try to tame the flames.
Kenya is currently experiencing a major drought. Not only is electricity being rationed, but so is water. We were very worried that they might run out of water before putting out the fire.
Children watched from a nearby balcony.
The crowd was huge. People watched, helplessly. There was nothing we could do to help.
Seeing these fires reinforced in my mind just how vulnerable people are in the slums. The lack of government services in the slums is shocking. In the end this community was about to get the fire under control and eventually put it out; however, it could easily have been much worse.
Posted By Alixa Sharkey
Posted Aug 17th, 2009