Enhancing Adaptive Capacity of Communities in Informal Settlement to Flooding: the Case of Mukuru Kwa Reuben in Nairobi, Kenya.


Mukuru Kwa Ruben informal settlement is located within the industrial area of Nairobi County. It is characterized by poor dilapidated housing exacerbated by poor drainage conditions and flooding in the area. According to the 2019 census projections, Mukuru kwa Ruben has a population of 527,526. This study aimed at developing a framework to enhance adaptive capacity of communities at the Mukuru kwa Ruben informal settlement to flooding. The study objectives entailed: To determine the drivers and impacts of flooding in Mukuru kwa Ruben, to identify the coping strategies to flood risks, establish their challenges and opportunities in Mukuru kwa Ruben and to develop strategies that will enhance Mukuru kwa Ruben adaptive capacity to flood risk. The study started by reviewing relevant literature on flood vulnerability in urban areas and most specifically in informal settlements of Nairobi. Rainfall data was obtained from Kenya Metrological Department for the period 1985-2017 and various flood management policies and strategies were critically reviewed. Household questionnaires, observation checklists and Key Informant Interview guides were used to collect data from the community. The data collection process was undertaken, followed by the analysis of the data collected. The methods of analyses used for this study entailed: content analysis, trend analysis and desktop reviews. The study findings show that flooding in Mukuru kwa Reuben isn’t necessarily caused by heavy down pour of rainfall but ineffective structural and non-structural measures that if addressed can enhance the adaptive capacity of the community to flood risks. It was also evident that residents of Mukuru kwa Ruben have put more premium on structural adaptation measures that are externally facilitated to soft adaptation measures that can easily be conducted by the community members. Shortcomings in the legislation, policies and strategies on urban settlement flooding were highlighted and appropriate means to tighten the loose ends proposed. The study therefore recommends Integral community stakeholders should conduct mass sensitization on effective low cost adaptive strategies to floods in Mukuru kwa Ruben, form Mukuru kwa Ruben residents association so as to have a representative at the Nairobi disaster committee to represent their plight and relook implementation of flood management strategies especially in urban informal settlements.



Floods can be defined as an accrual of water in areas that are typically not submerged (Kundzewicz et al., 2014). They normally assume different forms such as fluvial floods which occur as a result of rivers exceeding their capacity during heavy rainfall events (Haque & Nicholls, 2018),flash floods that happen during high short intensity period (mostly within 6 hours) rainfall events (Schumacher, 2017), and glacial lake outburst floods which result from glacier dammed failure (Emmer, 2017).Other types of floods include pluvial floods resulting from heavy down pours saturating drainage systems and bringing about surface water flooding (Houston et al., 2011),coastal floods which occur when seawater floods the adjacent low lying areas (Toubes, et al., 2017), and sewer floods that mostly come as a result of blockages of sewer lines during rainy seasons.

The United Nations and World Bank (2010) indicate that floods are the most common natural disasters and are ranked third after storms and earthquakes in terms of the damage they cause. In 2010, China recorded the highest annual damage by fluvial floods in a single country at the US $ 51 billion (Kundzewicz et al., 2014), while in 2010 and 2011 significant parts of Asia and some parts of Africa were ravaged by floods and over 2,000 people were reported to have either succumbed to death, displaced or had severe material damage to their houses (Syvitski and Brakenridge 2013; Kundzewicz et al.2012). In Africa, Tropical Storm IDAI claimed over 300 lives in Mozambique, 98 in Zimbabwe, 56 in Malawi and 3 in Madagascar in the year 2019. The storm also injured more than 580 people and displaced over 100,000 (European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2019). The severe damage caused by the floods from the storm is comparable to those caused by Cyclone Leon–Eline which hit Mozambique in the year 2000 and caused 800 loss of lives (Insurance Journal, 2019). Closer to home, the Government of Kenya reports that, in the year 2010, 73 human and 1,864 livestock lives were lost, while over 3,375 households were displaced as a result of floods that ravaged the country as a result of the 2009 El Nino event (GoK, 2009).


Studies on the rainfall seasons in East Africa show that the seasonal rains of March- April-May (MAM) and October-November-December (OND) depend on the Inter- Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), while the OND season is further impacted by El  Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events (Ogou et al., 2015). According to (Wolff et al., 2011) ENSO has a significant influence on the variability of rainfall by intensifying the ITCZ. This has in turn led to increased OND precipitation in East Africa Regions during El Nino years. Increasing global temperatures have been observed to catalyse the cyclic El Nino phenomenon with the anticipated results being increased severe flooding in the region (Wang et al., 2019). Kenya got to experience the brutal impacts of El Nino effect during the 1997-1998 floods (United Nations, 1998). In November 2015, floods brought about by El Nino affected Narok, Meru, Kisumu, Kilifi and Nairobi Counties (floodlist, 2015). However, it’s important to note that floods haven’t always been brought about by El Nino events. Kenya experienced heavy flooding in April 2020 that brought about over 100 fatalities and displacement of 1,800 people (Benaim Rachel, 2020).

Informal settlements are unplanned settlements where houses are not built in consideration with the building and planning regulations of a city , and more often than not are located in environmentally sensitive areas (Avis, 2016).Informal settlements are by-products of rapid urbanization taking place in developing countries. These settlements are characterized by tenuous shelters, dense population, limited access to appropriate sanitation facilities and clean water. Informal settlements lack adequate infrastructures that can enable them effectively cope with flooding risks. This is mainly due to the high cost of such structures, often out of reach of the community, and also as a result of inadequate support and lack of political will to develop adequate infrastructure in those areas (Fox, 2014). Other issues that affect the informal settlements include numerous environmental issues such as encroachment of riparian land, poor sanitation as a result of indiscriminate dumping which make them susceptible to significant harm in case of natural or human-made disasters (White et al., 2017).

Informal settlements in developing countries are often affected by floods because of heavy reliance on natural drainage systems which are easily overwhelmed. Effective land-use management and continuous incremental adjustments that can enable


informal settlements to handle the flood water capacity are methods that remain conspicuously missing in these areas (Sakijege et al., 2014). Coupled with rapid urbanization in urban cities(Kaburu et al., 2019) and its characterization of illegality and unplanned land-use (John, 2020) contribute largely in making informal settlements susceptible to flooding.

Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, has more than 30 informal settlements with no meaningful organized effort towards ensuring the protection of those  communities from climatic hazards. These informal settlements host a large portion of Kenya’s internal migrants who have moved from rural areas to the urban areas to look for better opportunities. Among these is Mukuru informal settlement which consists of Mukuru kwa Njenga, Mukuru Kayaba, Mukuru kwa Reuben and Sinai. The settlements are situated about 8 km on the South Eastern side of Nairobi Central Business District, within the Industrial area part of the city.

Mukuru kwa Ruben is the most affected section of the larger Mukuru informal settlements during flooding events. It is spatially segregated and gets very little benefits if any from the development of the more affluent areas surrounding it (Ruben centre, 2017). The residents face multiple burdens of pollution, accessibility of potable water, inadequate toilets, and significant health and environmental risks that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change (UC Berkeley & University of Nairobi, 2017).

1.1     Problem Statement

The location and biophysical characteristics of informal settlements make them an easy prey to climate induced disaster events such as floods. The unplanned nature of Mukuru kwa Ruben and poor housing structures, have made the residents susceptible to adverse risks during floods. Gatope, Kisumu, Feed the children, Kosovo, Rorie and Mombasa villages in Mukuru kwa Ruben are hotspots that are always adversely affected by flood events.

The mushrooming of settlements in Mukuru kwa Ruben aimed at meeting the high demand of tenants who have migrated to the city and need affordable housing has made people to put up housing structures all over Mukuru kwa Ruben without taking consideration of the harm that it may cause in the long run whenever the area


experiences a rainfall event. The rampant unplanned land-use and the blind eye given by the authorities who are tasked with ensuring proper adherence to building codes and provision of vital services such as those of enhancing drainage systems in the area, have exposed the community in Mukuru kwa Rube to floods. A pattern has emerged on how the community of Mukuru kwa Ruben has been reacting to flood events. From various sources where their plight has been highlighted, what has been clear is that they seem to have taken a “let’s wait and see” approach. As a result, they have been subjected to the adverse risks that are brought about by flooding events. The vicious cycle of the recurring of adverse risks in Mukuru kwa Ruben every time there is a flood event doesn’t conform with the sustainable development goal 11 which focuses on sustainable cities and communities. Hence there is need to come up with a transdisciplinary approach to flood risk management in informal settlements to make those settlements and communities more sustainable. The study therefore sought to strengthen community social networks and structures in Mukuru kwa Reuben informal settlement to mitigate against the current reactionary approach to the recurrent flooding in the area.



1.2     Research Questions


The research questions that will guide the research include:


  1. What are the drivers of floods in Mukuru kwa Reuben?


  1. How do the communities currently respond to the risks and actual impacts of floods in the area?
  2. What are the challenges and the opportunities that can be derived from, the current response strategies?
  3. What adaptation strategies can be promoted to reduce vulnerability of the residents of Mukuru kwa Reuben exposed to flooding risk?


1.3     Objectives

The overall objective of this study is to enhance the adaptive capacity of flooding in Mukuru kwa Ruben informal settlement in Nairobi County through strengthening of community social networks and structures.

Specific Objectives


  1. To determine the drivers and impacts of flooding in Mukuru kwa


  1. To identify the coping strategies to flood risks, establish their challenges and opportunities in Mukuru kwa
  2. To develop strategies that will enhance the Mukuru kwa Ruben adaptive capacity to flood risk

1.4    Justification and significance

The purpose of this study was to establish how the adaptive capacity in Mukuru kwa Ruben informal settlement can be enhanced through strengthening of community social networks and structures. Numerous studies have been conducted on the management of floods in informal settlements in Nairobi. However, most of those studies have solely focused on Kibera informal settlement. Getting relevant flood management studies in other informal settlements within Nairobi County always proved to be an exercise in futility. Following a project conducted by Maji na Ufanisi and the Institute of climate change and adaptation (ICCA) on the resilience of urban informal settlements to climate change in Nairobi County, was the basis of this study founded.

Flood events in Mukuru kwa Ruben have not happened without bringing about devastating effects. To enhance the adaptive capacity of flood prone communities in urban informal settlements, relevant policies on flood management have to be critically looked at. The study identified the policies and strategies governing flood management and the loopholes that render them ineffective. Community’s behavioural pattern during floods has a direct correlation to their adaptive capacity to floods. This study sought to comprehend how the residents of Mukuru kwa Ruben behaved during flood events and why they behaved in that particular manner. All this was aimed to help understand how the adaptive capacity of Mukuru kwa Ruben informal settlement could be enhanced.

The results of the study provided vital insights to community stakeholders and practitioners to get to comprehend the drivers of floods in these regions. The reasons ranged from structural to behavioural in accordance to the results that emanated from the study. The study brought out the impacts that these inhabitants are exposed to during flood events. The study findings eventually contributed to the body of knowledge in academia and provided some useful insights on flood adaptation in informal settlements for further academic research.


URI: http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/156014

Publisher: University of Nairobi

Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States

Author(s) retain the copyright of this article. This article is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0

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