WHY BUILDINGS COLLAPSE IN KENYA !

Greedy investors coupled up with the swelling population in urban towns give way to collapsing buildings.

I feel you are a bit confused, but here are my two cents on collapsing buildings in Kenya.

For the past few decades, Africans have been moving from rural areas into cities, seeking work and schooling so the continent’s urban population has skyrocketed. Nairobi is a prime example of that migration, with its population pushing upward and its boundaries pushing outward. Kisii, Nakuru, Kisumu, Mombasa and Eldoret depict the same global trend in high relief.

While such migration often mirrors economic advancement, it also presents socioeconomic and environmental challenges. Rapid urban growth strains existing infrastructure, as a result, the construction industry is greatly affected.

Investors pump in money in high-rise apartments to accommodate students and job seekers. This means developers are maximally using land as they seek to reap big from their investments.

Because of the high housing demand, contractors routinely flout building codes to either build more houses and earn quick cash or they quote so low in their Bill of quantities and end up building substandard houses.

So I thought we should zero in the main reasons why buildings are collapsing and how to address the issue.

The residential building that collapsed in Kware, Embakasi early this year, photo by Ouma wanzala

1. Weak Foundation 

The foundations of the building transfer the weight of the building to the ground, they are the footholds of buildings and therefore need to be strong enough to support the subsequent load. While ‘foundation’ is a general word, normally, every building has a number of individual foundations.  Most buildings have some kind of foundation structure directly below every major column, so as to transfer the column loads directly to the ground.

Adequate foundations are usually costly and depending on the strength of the soil and the expected load of the building, they can contribute up to half of the entire cost of the building. It is for this reason that contractors take shortcuts and build apartments on swampy areas.

Some developers, however, want to save money when building on weak grounds by cutting on concrete and reinforcements resulting in the collapse of buildings.

A six-storey building that collapsed in Huruma, Nairobi, on April 29 last year is a good example of this kind of negligence.

The building, which was put up next to a river, collapsed after a heavy downpour killing 51 occupants and injuring more than 100 people.

Although the building may have had a sound design and structure, the ground beneath it was incapable of carrying its load and it had to collapse.

It is evident that pre-construction surveys were not carried out, the soil mechanics was neglected!


2. Counterfeit Building Materials  

We all know Kenya is ranked among the largest markets for fake products in Africa, with the construction boom in Kenya it has created a huge market for building materials, and rogue traders are taking advantage of this demand to introduce fakes into the local market.

From non-certified steel to pipes and low-quality fittings, the market is now flooded with fake “cheap” products

Most of these materials are weak therefore unable to support a building.

While some contractors might be duped by counterfeiters with fake authentication certificates into buying substandard materials, some individuals use these goods knowingly to cut costs.

The products are mainly sourced from China, Dubai, Japan, Korea, Thailand and India. To be on the safe side insist on locally manufactured products.

By the way, KRA has unveiled a smart phone application which can be used to verify authentic products in the war against counterfeits. Advise your builders to embrace this technology to avoid being a victim of collapsed buildings.


3. Poor Structural Design 

There is an aspect of engineering known as Structural integrity and failure which deals with the ability of a structure to support a designed load without breaking and includes the study of past structural failures in order to prevent failures in future designs.

The structural integrity of a building component is the ability of the same component to carry the designed load without breaking or deforming excessively, whereas the structural failure is initiated when a building component loses its integrity.

A structural engineer can make errors in computation and fail to take into account the weight that a structure will be expected to withstand.

The engineer may also follow inaccurate theories and use inaccurate data and make wrong choices of materials during construction of a building. Such an engineer will be responsible for the future collapse of the building.

In a well-designed building,  a localized failure should not cause immediate or even progressive collapse of the entire structure.


4 Unprofessionalism 

Construction management might be challenging and a demanding. In order to successfully complete a project, from the perspective of a Client, the contractor will need the assistance of many construction professionals ( architects, surveyors, soil, electrical, mechanical, structural and civil engineers ) to help them realize their objective, particularly from the feasibility to completion of a project.

These construction professionals have different specialties, for example, an architect will generally manage the design and construction of the project, whereas the structural engineer will ensure that the project is structurally stable, and the quantity surveyor will generally look after the financial aspects of a project.

The services of such professionals come at a cost and in a bid to cut on costs, some developers prefer to hire uncertified jua kali artisans – most of whom are nothing but quacks – which has led to the rising building collapse cases.

Such unskilled labor lacks the technical know-how on building construction requirements such as the ideal standards of structural steel as well as the correct concrete mixing ratios and curing procedures for optimum strength in relation to the expected load of the complete building.

Although the cowboy developers initially think they are saving a lot of money, in the long run when such buildings collapse, it becomes a perfect example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.


5 Greed for wealth 

In a bid to cash in on the ever-growing demand for housing in urban towns, rogue developers flout building code and regulations to hurriedly put up substandard residential apartments

Some are adding extra floors originally not planned for resulting in heavier load than was planned for in the foundation. This is especially common in the less affluent residential estates where the population is swelling.

The understaffed national construction authority cant inspect all the buildings that are rapidly mushrooming every day across the country, and before you know it

BREAKING NEWS ….A building has collapsed in town A “


6 Corruption 

The delivery of a construction project involves many professional disciplines and tradespeople and numerous contractual relationships that make control measures difficult to implement, The complex transaction chains make it easier for corrupt developers.

The Numerous approvals required from the government in the form of licenses and permits at various stages of the delivery cycle, each one provides an opportunity for bribery.

The government agencies mandated with inspection of buildings to ensure they are safe for human habitation are riddled with corruption and inefficiencies.

For a few thousand shillings, corrupt inspectors are willing to turn a blind eye on malpractices resulting in fatalities and financial loss.

Although there are many reasons as to why a building may collapse, most of the incidents in Kenya seem to be driven by greed for wealth and corruption. In fact, it would be accurate to cite the two as the main real reasons as to why why buildings collapse in Kenya. 


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