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Resilient structures: Build houses to withstand natural calamities

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By LUKORITO W JONES
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Last month, on March 24, residents of several counties reported having felt the tremor that shook the country at around 7:30pm. The earthquake, which was confirmed by the Kenya Meteorological Department, affected parts of Nairobi, Nyeri, Mombasa, Kiambu, Makueni, Nakuru and Naivasha. Thankfully, the magnitude 4.8 earthquake was mild and left no destruction in its wake.

But the occurrence is enough to raise the question: What if it were an earthquake of a larger magnitude? Would our buildings have been strong enough to remain intact in the aftermath?

News of a storm wreaking havoc in the southern part of the continent was perhaps even more troubling. Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving more than 800 people dead and hundreds more missing by the start of this week. Though Kenya has had its own fair share of perennial floods, would our buildings still hold were they to get exposed to a cyclone of similar magnitude?

Mr Franklin Mwango, a lecturer and the chairman of the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Kenyatta University, is pessimistic about our chances in the face of disaster. This, Mr Mwango notes, is because most buildings in Kenya’s urban centres such as Nairobi and Mombasa were put up many years ago. The materials and engineering methods used back then, he says, are largely outdated.

Mr Douglas Githaiga, a construction consultant and freelance quality assurance officer, is equally doubtful whether our buildings would fare well in the face of disaster. “Though we have been blessed enough not to experience events such as disastrous earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones, the risk of such events happening, though slim, still looms,” Mr Githaiga warns.

The two professionals are of the opinion that it is time for Kenyan builders to adopt resilient construction techniques. Putting up a resilient building, Mr Mwango says, means considering not only how the building would fare under common use, but also putting in mind unexpected affronts from environmental and man-made forces that might compromise the structure’s integrity.

While praising Kenya’s building code as a guide to help builders put up architecturally sound buildings, Mr Githaiga points out that potential builders with resilience in mind should endeavour to go above and beyond the minimum requirements of the stipulated building codes. He points out that even though resilient buildings will inevitably end up costing more, the extra mile may one day mean the difference between life and death.

“The peace of mind of having a building strong enough to withstand major storms, earthquakes and even terrorist activities cannot be overstated,” Mr Githaiga adds.

Mr Franklin Mwango, a lecturer and the chairman of the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Kenyatta University. PHOTO | LUKORITO JONES

Mr Franklin Mwango, a lecturer and the chairman of the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Kenyatta University. PHOTO | LUKORITO JONES

The first step towards putting up a resilient home, Mr Mwango says, is to find out as much background information about the site as possible. “A thorough site analysis of the area in which you’re building is paramount. If your architect only visits the construction site during the dry months from January to March, he might end up designing a house that, come the rainy season, gets flooded. A site analysis running back to the past 12 months is often used as a standard, but cautious builders can request a site analysis from as back as ten years prior, just to avoid any surprises,” the lecturer notes.

Mr Mwango gives the example of the Great Flood of New York that struck the largest city in the United States in 1913. He says, “Records have shown that the flood comes once every 100 years. It has been slightly more than a century since the storm last caused havoc, and authorities estimate that it might descend upon the city any time now. This time, though, New Yorkers want to be prepared for it. As such, over the past 15 years or so, the authorities have been ensuring that old buildings have been reinforced to be able to withstand a flood of such magnitude.”

Mr Githaiga says that before building, one should request a building professional to prepare a report that covers an area’s exposure to risk. A geologist, for example, may determine whether the soil type can support the building, especially in sloppy areas and places that are prone to erosion and mudslides. Weather factors such as wind speeds and average temperatures of an area can affect the type of building that may be suitable for that place. As such, it is always best to look up climate reports before building.

Mr Mwango, an architect, lived, worked and studied near the infamous San Andreas Fault line in California. The western US state is a hotbed for seismic activity, and Mr Mwango experienced a number of them during his time there.

“My university was located directly along a fault line, and earthquakes would often rock the campus in which I worked and studied. However, though the quakes were many and intense, buildings rarely crumbled as they had been put up to be resilient,” he remembers.

“Studying architecture in California, a third of my coursework was on how to design buildings that could withstand seismic activity. These are modifications that Kenyan architects need to learn and embrace too, seeing that a large chunk of our country sits along the Great Rift Valley,” the lecturer continues.

In March last year, cracks formed in several parts of the Rift Valley, most notably a 65-foot-wide crack on the Mai Mahiu-Narok road. David Adede, a geologist who spoke to the Nation after the cracks occurred, blamed the events that threatened to split the Rift Valley in two on volcanic activities beneath the valley.

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A house destroyed by an earthquake. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A house destroyed by an earthquake. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The first steps towards putting up a structure that will withstand seismic forces is constructing a strong foundation. This, Mr Mwango says, can be achieved by letting a geologist determine the depth of the foundation, which may be deeper along high-risk areas such as in the Rift Valley.

“A building’s foundation can be joined onto its structure by expansion joints. These expansion joints may include springs that will act as shock absorbers during an earthquake. In such an event, only the foundation of the building would be affected by ground movements, but the rest of the structure will remain intact,” Mr Mwango expounds.

The don points to cross bracing as a technique that can be used to make the walls of our buildings resistant to seismic activity. Cross bracing, he explains, is a system of making a building stronger by joining its columns and support beams using two diagonal supports placed in an X-shaped manner. This technique increases the building’s weight-bearing capacity.

Instead of using common window panes that might crack and shatter thus injuring the home’s occupants during a disaster, Mr Mwango recommends laminated or tempered glass for windows and doors. These, he says, are toughened glasses that do not split into hazardous smithereens upon impact.

For buildings made of brick and mortar, woe betide its occupants should an earthquake of magnitude 6 and above strike. Mr Mwango predicts that in such a scenario, the building’s bricks and blocks would scatter and hurl in different directions, injuring occupants and passers-by. He recommends that Kenyans move away from traditional brick and motor and explore newer and more resilient building technologies such as the use of light-gauge steel and expanded polystyrene (EPS) panels.

The foundation is also the focal point when preparing for water-related disasters such as floods of biblical proportions, cyclones and tsunamis. The architect opines that buildings in areas prone to flooding, such as Narok and Budalang’i, would benefit from raised foundations. These foundations, he says, should be such that they allow excess water to flow right under the building. As such, the foundation will avoid the danger of getting damaged as a result of being waterlogged.

Having a building that can survive even when off the grid will come in handy during difficult times. Mr Githaiga, the construction consultant, suggests that when building, you should consider installing your own electricity-generation options such as solar panels and diesel generators.

Mr Githaiga observes that in many buildings, backup generators, water pumps and other controlling equipment for the building are usually stored either in the basement or the ground floor. He warns that there’s a danger of water flooding these floors during a severe storm and cutting off the power and water supply.

“Building designers should take care not to include backup generators, booster water pumps, internet routers or anything important in the basement. In flood-prone regions, such mechanisms should be designated to the topmost floors,” he advises.

Construction consultant Douglas Githaiga. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Construction consultant Douglas Githaiga. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Early last month, dozens of students of St Brigid Nangwe in Kabuchai constituency in Bungoma County were struck by lightning during a thunderstorm while they were going on with their evening preps. The students were later treated at a nearby medical facility. Commenting on the event, Mr Mwango lays the blame on the designers of the school’s building. He opines that disasters related to lightning can be avoided by simply installing lightning arresters on every building in lightning-prone areas.

Peeping into the future, Mr Githaiga foresees extreme weather changes over the coming decades. He says, “Due to global warming, scientists predict that events like hurricanes, cyclones and heatwaves will increase as the planet warms. Although it is very hard to pinpoint exactly what will happen in terms of climate change, chances are that Kenya will be adversely affected, especially by abnormally heavy deluges. While we can do all that we can to slow down climate change, it also behoves us to put up buildings that will stand strong in the face of such catastrophes should they befall us.”

As the chairman of the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Kenyatta University, Mr Mwango underlines the importance of educating the next generation of building professionals with resilience in mind. “We need to teach our architects and engineers how to design and put up buildings that will last for many generations to come,” he says.

The don adds, “In the event of any disaster that renders a building unsafe for occupation, its occupants need to exit the building in a safe and quick manner. Architects designing buildings should take note to include emergency exit doors that actually work, and install other safety materials in the building such as smoke detectors and firefighting equipment that are easily accessible.”

Should you decide to build the resilient way, an important consideration would be to decide how much money you are going to spend. Is spending more on your house to make it extra-sturdy worth it? What if you go the extra mile and disaster does not strike in your lifetime? Answering these questions, Mr Githaiga says, is tough since it requires predictive knowledge of when the next great flood, lightning strike or earthquake might occur.

“For those who can afford it, they should go ahead and put up a building that has the ability to withstand an act of God. After all, money cannot be compared with the chance of saving a life,” Mr Githaiga says.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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