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Engineering a better world | Kibera flood toolkit, Kenya

Kibera map

Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya, with over 700,000 residents, 30,000 of which are at risk of flooding.

The cheapest rent in the area is found along the banks of the river Ngong and it is here that the poorest and most vulnerable people live, at risk of flooding. We have seen the devastation caused by floods across the UK from Boscastle, and the Somerset levels to Cumbria and Leeds. Flooding not only damages property and disrupts life, but exposes people to harmful diseases and fast flowing waters that endanger lives. This is an all too regular occurrence in Kibera.

Rodoula Gregoriou, part of BuroHappold Engineering’s water team (see video, below) has spent the last two years developing a flood toolkit for Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). She’s found the time to do this thanks partly to the company’s Share Our Skills (SOS) initiative, which allows employees to carry out non-fee paying projects during regular work time. 

The aim of the flood toolkit is to identify areas at risk of fluvial flooding within the Kibera slum. Using this information, KDI in partnership with organisations such as Engineers Without Borders, developed a series of structural and non-structural interventions to mitigate flood risk and improve the quality of life of people living in Kibera.

This project contributed to achieving many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • Through innovative use of flood modelling and flood mapping the team was able to identify areas that are vulnerable and prone to flooding. KDI is using this information to identify where to implement social resilience projects, such as raising flood risk awareness, set-up early warning systems and improving human capacity on climate change mitigation and adaptation (SDG13 - Climate action).
  • Perhaps the most vulnerable area within Kibera, Andolo village, was chosen as a space for flood mitigation intervention. This included the construction of formal drainage channels and access between the homes and across the tributaries in August 2016.
  • As the water flows through the village, it picks up pollutants, exposing people to water borne diseases and damaging roads and property. The flood toolkit is used to inform on appropriate land uses such as building toilets away from flood risk areas and instead using that space for flexible public meeting areas. This reduces the risk of pollution being washed through the community, down to the river (SDG3 - Good health and wellbeing, and SDG6 - Clean water and sanitation).
  • Flood map information is non-existent in Nairobi. Using the flood toolkit, KDI has provided invaluable advice to local authorities such as Nairobi County Council Departments; allowing the consideration of flood risk during the planning stages of major infrastructure projects therefore facilitating resilient infrastructure development in Kibera (SDG9 - Industry, innovation and infrastructure).

Kibera chart

Kibera chart

KDI hope that by improving health and access across the slum, through similar project interventions and advocacy at government, the community will experience an overall reduction in poverty with less school and work days missed (SDG1 - No poverty, SDG 4 - Quality education, and SDG8 - Clean water and sanitation).

It is clear that Rodoula and BuroHappold’s team, and KDI have been doing some great work to tackle the SDGs. But what more can we do, and what support do we need to move forward?

inside Kibera

inside Kibera

A view inside the Kibera slum.

We asked Rodoula how the Institution of Civil Engineers could support its members: “The first thing the ICE could do to help us achieve the SDGs is raising awareness”. This is exactly what New Civil Engineer is trying to do through this campaign. Other organisations are getting involved too: the Royal Academy of Engineering released their “Engineering a Better World” pamphlet on the SDGs late last year.

But as we have seen from the results of our survey on the SDGs, there is still much to be done.

“I think the ICE could also provide more push through the first bit of training for Engineers going through chartership… trying to get the bigger picture and understand what the effect of our project actually is on the larger scale… how the project is affecting the world,” says Rodoula. This is a great point, and certainly something young engineers are engaging in more and more. It would be great to see a greater requirement for this type of thinking, but until then, we can all lead the way in our own work.

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