Want Some Infrastructure? Ask Hurricane Nyasuguta

So a third of the United States of America was covered in storm clouds the other day. They called the storm Hurricane Sandy, and it was the worst thing to hit the US since Rebecca Black’s Friday. In fact analysts have quoted it as being worse for the human race than YOLO; as you can see the term analysts here is used, loosely. According to these guys the death toll is at 46, and millions were left without electricity. The NYSE was closed for two days straight, the last time anything like that happened, due to weather was 1988, and they were probably still trading with horses and bayonets.

That makes this some serious stuff.

I think the real thing that Hurricane Sandy proved is that America was, somewhat, ready for the waters to come sweeping through the land. It’s like Noah had appeared to the architects in a dream and told them there would be a flood. Take this scenario, you wake up in the morning and you hear it on the news. A storm that will engulf the whole of East Africa is upon us. Let’s be realistic. You won’t hear it on the news. If a storm is coming it means it’s already windy and/or drizzling. This means that you don’t have electricity.

You leave your house and head out for the office only to find that everyone and their grandmother has brought out their car, and the traffic police are out. So faecal matter, has really hit the proverbial fan.  You really don’t know what is up. The jam may be slightly worse than usual, but all you know is that you may be late for work.

Curse the snooze button.

Finally you make it to the office, only just in time. The backup generator is on and you finally see it in the news. The storm is coming, and will be upon Nairobi in a couple of ours. You never have left the house. You struggle through your work day and watch as the rain gets worse and worse. Your boss said he’s gone for a meeting. You can’t leave the office though, you might as well get comfortable. Plus the secretary is around, in the black skirt. Maybe this hurricane thing couldn’t be so bad.

Within a couple of hours the generator runs out of power, the lifts are off. The rain is pouring down in buckets and there seems to be no end to it. One glance outside at the roads shows that there’s nowhere you can go.

But you are not the problem, you’re safe. You may be cold for a couple of days, but in your office you’re safe; or at least relatively.

This article on the guardian shows that there are about 200,000 people living in Kibera – so much for the million you thought they were. At this point I’d give some statistic about how many of them live in mud houses, but I’m too lazy to find one. So let’s just go on my word for it, a lot of them live in houses made of mud. Let’s be honest, a flood wouldn’t be mud’s best friend. And Kibera isn’t the only slum in Nairobi. There is mathare, there is Rueben, Njenga and Kayaba’s Mkurus, Kaberia et al. Those are many houses that will just be washed away. Lives that will be lost.

When there were slight tremors in the country there were buildings that collapsed. The whole kitu kidogo thing means that none of our buildings are even close when it comes to being anywhere near sturdy enough to face a natural disaster.

And maybe that’s why we will never really have great infrastructure. The common nature of these things in other countries forced their societies to find solution. Japan is so used to earthquakes their buildings can withstand them. When New York flooded the buildings could handle the many tonnes of water, because somewhere, in the back of the architect’s mind, the possibility of a flood existed. I’ve written here about infrastructure before. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for infrastructure, if the price we will have to pay for it is an earthquake.

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