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Strengthening the Upgrading Programmes of Informal Settlements in Nairobi


Upgrading of informal settlements involves scaling up of interventions that seek to address the challenges faced by the population living in slums. This includes providing affordable housing with adequate and quality water, and sanitation and security for the residents to have a decent lifestyle. Informal settlements emerge due to rapid and unplanned urbanization. Approximately 60 per cent of Nairobi population live in informal settlements. As of 2019, Nairobi County had 200 informal settlements, occupying about 6 per cent of the county city’s land. Thus, this blog seeks to assess the informal settlement upgrade in Nairobi while identifying areas for strengthening in the implementation of the upgrading. This includes carrying out in-depth screening on the status of the housing, water, health, and sanitation, crime, and security issues.

Status of Informal Settlements Upgrading in Nairobi 


Housing is one of the basic needs for all citizens. The government has identified housing as one of the development priorities and ambitions geared towards attainment of the Kenya Vision 2030 blueprint. The government is geared towards increasing the provision of affordable housing for all citizens. Similarly, the government seeks to promote the socio-economic status of the Jua Kali sector by building their capacities to produce high quality construction materials such as doors, windows, gates, and hinges that will be used in the housing.

Informal settlements in most cases have insecure land tenure, and most houses are developed on government land or privately owned land, and therefore construction of unplanned and poor house structures, with approximately 50,000 people per square kilometre. The houses are shanties and are constructed on 10 by 12 feet size pieces of land that houses approximately 4 persons against a global size of 215 square feet per person. Moreover, most houses lack windows for adequate ventilation and are made-up of iron sheets, waste materials which may create easy access to burglars and frequent disasters such as fires outbreak.

Water, sanitation, and health (WASH)

Informal settlements often face challenges of unreliable safe water supply. Residents rely on water that might be from contaminated water sources, such as open wells or polluted rivers. The provision of sanitary services is also inadequate, and the use of open spaces and flying toilets is a common phenomenon. Poor environmental sanitation leads to water borne and vector borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has set a criterion for the right to water, which demonstrates that every human is entitled to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. Similarly, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 reflects on the importance of access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right and essential component for achieving sustainable development.

In the same manner, the Kenya Vision 2030 advocates for prioritization of access to clean and safe water. The goal is to ensure that a significant percentage of the population has access to reliable and safe water sources. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) recognizes the right to clean, safe, and sufficient water for all its citizens. Article 43(1)(d) explicitly states that “every person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities”. The National Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy (NESHP) of 2007 requires that all premises, dwellings, and their immediate surroundings be clean and free from waste and unpleasant odours and should have adequate drainage.

Despite such policy positions and regulations, 75 per cent of informal settlement dwellers in Nairobi lack access to clean and safe water. This leaves them with no option rather than to buy water from kiosks at prices much higher than those paid by middle-and high-income households. Public taps serve a mere 3 per cent of slum households and are located far away from the house, where women and children are tasked with fetching the water and therefore travel long distances and pose a security threat if one must get the precious commodity at night. Moreover, due to inadequacy of quality and quantity of water, the communities are prone to water borne diseases such as cholera due to contamination from open sewerage lines. 

Limited access to safe sanitation is associated with various health risks. Among the informal settlements, there is a gap in that most informal settlements, for example in Kibera, do not have adequate toilet facilities. Once the latrines are full, young boys are employed to empty the latrine and as they empty, they take the contents to the river. This contaminates Nairobi River, making the water unsafe for human consumption and outbreak of water borne diseases. Efforts by non-governmental organization to build ablution blocks that charge per visit is considered costly.

Crime and insecurity 

Nairobi city has the highest crime in Kenya, with 88,083 crimes (8.4% increase from the previous year) in 2022. Economic factors are the main cause of crime in informal urban settlements. This includes youth unemployment, which makes it difficult to meet basic needs and pushes the youth to criminal activities. Robbery, burglary, and mugging are the most common crimes in informal settlements. These crimes are mostly committed late at night and early midnight and often occur along the narrow walkway or inside the houses. Houses in the slums are highly concentrated in small spaces, and narrow roads left between the houses, thus lack of defense space in case of an attack by criminals. In addition, criminals can easily break the doors and windows to enter the residence due to poor housing structures, making burglary relatively simple and straightforward.

Policy Gaps in Slum Upgrading and Emerging Issues

The SDG 11 advocates for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.[1] It is critical to focus on targeted planning for the dynamically growing urban population. Rapid urbanization is taking place at an unprecedented growth rate of 4.4 per cent per annum. Poor planning and management of urban areas has left these areas with huge backlogs in critical infrastructure and basic services. This has led to the emergence of sprawling, overcrowded and impoverished informal settlements, hence there is need for policies addressing planning in the urban areas to avoid overcrowding.

In 2011, the Government of Kenya in collaboration with the World Bank, the Agence Française de Development, and the Swedish International Cooperation Agency, rolled out the Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) alongside Kenya Municipal Programme (KMP), approved in May 2010 and the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Project (NAMSIP), approved in 2012 to complement KENSUP. The key focus for KISIP is to improve the living conditions of the houses for residents of selected informal settlements. Further, it supports the efforts of the State Department for Housing and Urban Development to increase the number of houses by providing tenure security and infrastructure services in informal settlements.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 under the Bill of Rights, Article 43(1)(b) provides that “every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation”. But still, there is a glaring shortfall on the current policy framework that addresses matters related to access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities, and essential health services in informal settlements. The policies in place fail to explicitly tailor their provisions to the distinctive needs of these marginalized communities in the informal settlements, perpetuating an environment of neglect.

A critical oversight lies in the insufficient emphasis on integrating crime prevention measures within the upgrading initiatives in the informal settlements. While infrastructure development is prioritized as one way of upgrading informal settlements, there is a noticeable absence of targeted strategies aimed at fostering community safety. The lack of initiatives addressing the social determinants of crime leaves residents vulnerable to security challenges, thus posing a threat to lives.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There is need to strengthen the slum upgrading programmes in terms of service delivery by ensuring timely completion of housing projects and reducing the cost of acquiring the houses. Since the informal settlement upgrade programme, around 822 houses have been completed in Soweto Kibera where people have settled and pay Ksh 4500- Ksh 7500 for one bedroom and two bedrooms, respectively. However, most of the slum dwellers moved in but later moved out due to lack of money to pay for houses. Currently, Kibera has approximately 4,000 houses that are under construction. Furthermore, the government is building more housing units across other informal settlements.

Informal settlements are characterized by limited resources and challenging living conditions. In Nairobi, over half of the population lives in informal settlements with limited access to housing, access to clean and adequate quantities of water, hygiene, and sanitation and high rates of insecurity. This is exacerbated by the fact that most informal settlement residents cannot secure permanent jobs, and therefore live in deplorable conditions. The housing structures are poor, congested, lack adequate safe water supply and the living environmental conditions are poor due to open defecation. Moreover, these houses are overpriced as compared to the formal settlements.

The policy initiatives include incentivizing slum tenants and landlords to improve the quality of the existing housing structures. This will involve formalization of property ownership so that landlords feel secure to provide proper standards of housing. Similarly, engaging local communities, government, and stakeholders in the decision-making ensures that diverse perspectives are considered, contributing to the creation of vibrant and socially cohesive urban spaces, especially in informal settlements. By incorporating feedback from those in informal settlements, the policy aims to foster a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for upgrading informal settlements. It will be important for the government to reinforce the efforts and strengthen the legal and policy frameworks on WASH. Advocating for policies that prioritize the rights of informal settlement residents to access clean water and sanitation is crucial. Aligning upgrading initiatives with national and local regulations ensures a supportive legal environment for sustainable WASH solutions in the informal settlement upgrading.

Further, the government initiative on affordable housing needs to be backed with adequate security. Community policing initiative is a good strategy to ensure peace and order in the informal settlements, where officers walk hand-in-hand with the residents to foster trust and cooperation. This collaborative approach, rooted in understanding, not only upholds the law but becomes a conduit for a safer, united community.

Authors: Don Okello – KIPPRA Young Professionals

Mary KageniKIPPRA Young Professionals


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