A recent downpour exposes how inadequate the burgeoning city’s drain network actually is.
Commuters in Nairobi, Kenya, have been at a standstill since widespread flooding washed through the city following relentless rainfall Monday in the East African hub. Cars have been abandoned, residents spoke of spending up to five hours in gridlock, and at least nine people died after a makeshift mosque collapsed under the heavy rains, according to the BBC. Despite emerging as an exciting center for urban culture, floods and other pedestrian crises put the spotlight on Nairobi’s unaddressed urban planning needs.
Last month, Nairobians sounded the alarm on traffic. The Nairobi County government has responded by replacing roundabouts—a holdover from colonial-era development—with signaled intersections, which authorities say will reduce congestion. Yet critics say the city’s commuting woes require more than adapting a few traffic circles. Now, residents are again in a battle against crippling floods; downpours in April engulfed whole vehicles. Given the upward trajectory of the city’s population, an efficient drainage system should be a top priority.
The city is expected to add 2 million residents by 2025. By then, Nairobi’s population will have doubled in only 20 years. A recent U.N. study, however, found that over 70 percent of its roads had poor or very poor drainage networks.
If there is a silver lining to draw from this infrastructure crisis, it’s that everyone is affected. Nairobi is a notoriously class-conscious city. Potholes in leafy suburbs that the city’s elite call home are filled in quickly. The roughly 50 to 60 percent of Nairobians living in informal settlements, meanwhile, largely fend for themselves. As the modest homes of the marginalized are washed away by these floods, the leisure class feels at least some pinch as they face infrastructure obstacles bought on by the crisis.
And if the upper classes are uncomfortable, Nairobi’s massive drainage problem may just get the attention it deserves.