Building safety in Kenyas capital is back on the public agenda after a building collapsed in the city centre on 23 January, killing at least 20 people. The building, located in River Road just outside Nairobis central business district, was under construction at the time. Pending the results of an official investigation, poor oversight, corruption and lack of human resources are all being blamed.

It is not just a problem of a collapsed building, Abonyo Erastus, vice chairman of the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), told Inter Press Service (IPS). It is a much wider problem of a lack of capacity to handle the huge construction industry, he continued, adding that Nairobi city council has too few staff architects to maintain building standards in the rapidly expanding city.

The collapse had echoes of a similar incident in 1996 in which 16 people died. On that occasion investigators described buildings in Nairobi as disasters waiting to happen, constructed using substandard materials and to poor designs. However, so far their multiple recommendations, including auditing all existing buildings, conducting a public information campaign, creating a regulatory building authority and reviewing construction laws to make them easier to enforce, have all been ignored.

Under Kenyan law buildings must be designed by an architect and an engineer and the plans approved by the city council and the town planning committee before work can begin. The building must also be inspected at various stages during construction. However, it seems these rules are often disregarded or used by corrupt officials as a lever for extracting bribes.

There are no exact figures on the number of unsafe buildings in Kenya but the AAK believes that most buildings in middle- and low-income residential areas may be suspect, IPS reports.