Around 80-90% of the housing structures in the Deep Sea informal settlement in the Westlands area of Nairobi were destroyed after a fire broke out on the afternoon of 8 March 2011. According to the Kenya Red Cross, up to 10,000 people may have been affected by the fire – a majority of who have been made homeless, and dozens reportedly injured.
The fire spread quickly, in some cases through electricity wires connecting homes to each other. Fire engines had difficulty reaching the area because there is only one access road, which is extremely narrow and uneven.
In recent weeks fires also reportedly broke out in other slums and informal settlements including in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi.
Many families living in Deep Sea lost all of their belongings in the fire, including personal documents. “Now the children have to register for the National Primary School Examinations that are ongoing, whose deadline is 31 March, but for this they need birth certificates, which along with other key documents have been burnt in the fire….” said Diana, a mother of primary-school going children.
There is a high risk of fires in homes in Nairobi’s slums and informal settlements because the quality of materials used, and the construction of homes, is poor. Overcrowded conditions and haphazard electricity connections also increase the risk of fires. Lack of proper roads limits access by fire services, and lack of access to water leads to fires spreading between houses and other structures extremely quickly. The speed with which the fire spread at Deep Sea, and the large numbers made homeless as a result, starkly illustrates the need for the Kenyan government to address the inadequate housing conditions in informal settlements in Nairobi to ensure that all persons are able to enjoy the right to live somewhere in security and dignity.
Image: A resident of the Deep Sea informal settlement after the 8 March 2011 fire, © Amnesty International