It is foolhardy to court disaster then cry when it strikes


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Are Kenyans incurably fatalistic? What makes sane and healthy looking adults we saw in Mombasa last week swarm a leaking oil tanker to siphon fuel days after the Sachang’wan tragedy that claimed more than 130 lives?

What foolish courage erases harrowing memories of fire sweeping through a village, consuming petrol fumes in the air, and lives around it?

We ask the rhetorical question not to scrape raw wounds, it would be unfortunate to be accused of poking fun at the dead, maimed and poor. However, the people we saw scooping fuel in Mombasa, while chest-humping that poverty goaded them to the scene, did not look too poor to risk self-immolation in exchange for a debe of diesel.

The point is we are, as a nation, consumed by greed and fatalism. That is, unfortunately, the conclusion one discerns from the fact that we never learn from tragedy. When disaster strikes, we grieve but still know human intelligence demands we thereafter work on ways to prevent another catastrophe.

But it is not just in Mombasa that we play Russian roulette with our lives as our in-depth report in the inside pages of today’s paper show. We are a nation teeming with disasters waiting to happen. From the bare hills of Central Kenya, that are beckoning landslides, to the rickety ferries at the Coast, to the scary dug-out canoes and smoky boats traversing Lake Victoria, the story is the same. That of a nation daring death, and when disaster strikes, we grieve and vow it will never happen again. Then soon we are back to our old bad ways.

Safety standards

Even before memories of Nakumatt Downtown Supermarket fire recede, no one in Government has ordered a deliberate audit of city buildings for safety. Estimates by private consortiums show only 30 per cent of the buildings meet acceptable safety standards. Few of them have external stairways that can be used as escape routes in case of fire. Sadly, because of our fascination with burglar proofing, once down, it is a death trap because of iron grills and rusty locks.

Roads ordinarily act as fire breakers, but in Nairobi, even the alleys between buildings are used as parking. In case of an inferno, God forbid, of the magnitude of the Chicago fire, the cars will not only block escape routes, but also help spread it to adjoining buildings.

We revisit the two tragedies to prick the conscience of those in authority and reiterate that we cannot afford to continue living this way. We must for example begin to see the construction of exclusive parking bays for tankers ferrying inflammable material such as petrol. The nation wants to hear declaration of a national programme to assess and enforce simple safety regulations such as multiple emergency exits in public places, efficacy of water hydrants and retraining and modernisation of our fire brigade. It is a disgrace that they arrive at the scene of fires with water, which quickly runs out and they have to go for more miles away. There are no fire blankets or cushions for those who jump from inferno. We just shout at them to jump to their death. In the name of beautification we have grilled our roads — a walk down Haile Sellasie Avenue would show you the yawning trap we have set.

We must also revitalise our management disaster teams, adopting a synchonised approach and go by the manual when disaster breaks.

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