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Why Do Buildings in Kenya Keep Collapsing?


Two buildings collapsed recently in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Now, many Kenyans are worried about the safety of buildings around the country. Officials from the National Construction Authority are travelling around the country and inspecting building projects. The NCA says it has forced 500 such projects to suspend work since August. Some of the closures were for safety reasons. Others were ordered because inspectors found poor quality building materials.

Crispus Ndinyo is an engineer who works as an inspector for the National Construction Authority. He spoke to VOA during a visit to Kitengela, a town near Nairobi. He said he is finding violations wherever he looks.

“They don’t have any clothing, no helmet, and see this particular worker even their eyes, they are very red, this means this worker -- even their hands -- he’s operating in an environment that’s very unsafe, very unhealthy.”

Buildings are going up so quickly across Kenya that inspectors cannot examine all of the construction projects. But they say when they do find illegal activity, they order the work stopped and sometimes require the building to be destroyed.

“So at the moment we are going to stop the construction of this particular site.”

Earlier this month, a woman and small child died when a seven-floor building collapsed in Nairobi. Two weeks earlier, seven people were killed when a building collapsed in Makongeni.

Samuel Arachi is the acting inspector general of police. He says police may charge those responsible with a crime.

“For this incident, everybody who was involved in the construction right from the engineers, the architects, the contractor and the owner -- to us this is criminal negligence and it will not be condoned.”

Past building collapses have taken place in Nairobi neighborhoods where many poor people live. In those areas, buildings go up quickly with little supervision.

Architecture professor Alfred Omenya says inspectors and government officials are often paid to look the other way. He says their actions have led to structures that fail to meet rules for safety.

“This big issue, this big elephant in the room -- the corruption -- that even when these people are there, they're able to allow a whole lot of substandard practices, a whole lot of illegal practices because of course, of course they’re actually able to extort bribes and they're not serious about, you know, doing their work.”

The group Transparency International follows corruption around the world. It says Kenya’s police are the most corrupt government agency in Kenya. It says the country’s Lands Services agency -- which includes the construction inspection service -- is the next most-corrupt.

Officials have promised to increase inspections of construction projects and of existing housing, especially in the capital. They hope to prevent another deadly collapse.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow reported this story from Nairobi. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.

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Words in This Story

closure n. a situation or occurrence in which something (such as a business or factory) closes forever

violation n. something that is not allowed by a law or rule

helmet n. a hard hat that is worn to protect your head

particular adj. used to indicate that one specific person or thing is being referred to and no others

environment n. the conditions that surround someone or something; the conditions and influences that affect the growth, health or progress of someone or something

negligence n. failure to take the care that a responsible person usually takes; lack of normal care or attention

condone v. to forgive or approve (something that is considered wrong); to allow (something that is considered wrong) to continue; (often used in negative statements)

elephant in the room idiom an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about

extort v. to get (something, such as money) from a person by the use of force or threats

Are many buildings being constructed in your country? Who is inspecting them as they are being built? Have buildings collapsed in your country? If so, how is the government reacting to the collapses? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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