Last week, two disasters hit Kenya. On Wednesday, one of Nairobi’s busiest supermarkets, Nakumatt, went up in flames, consuming 25 people and dozens others are still missing. Just when Kenyans were still absorbing that shock, another tragedy struck.
On Saturday, a fuel tanker overturned in the town of Molo. Like it happens in all poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, masses of people swarmed the accident scene to siphon fuel. Suddenly, the scene that was teeming with hundreds of people was in flames. By yesterday, the death toll was 142.
The accounts of how the fire started remain contradictory but there are strong suggestions that one man, barred by the police from siphoning the fuel, dropped a burning cigarette and caused the inferno.
In Uganda, incidents like the Molo one are not new.
As these tragedies have shown, there is need by the authorities to do a mass sensitization on the dangers of siphoning fuel at accident scenes. In Uganda, some of the dark spots are known and it may be best to educate people around these areas.
But importantly, one may want to ask; what would compel someone to risk their lives to siphon fuel even when they know their lives are endangered? Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga after visiting the death scene at Molo said, “Poverty is pushing our people into doing desperate things just to get through one more day.”
Unless there is economic empowerment, we shall continue seeing cases of people staking their lives for such petty gains like petrol spilt from a tanker.
Our Disaster Preparedness Ministry and the Police may also want to ask if they have a quick-response team to handle such cases. How fast can they move to cordon off an accident scene?
In the Nakumatt case, authorities are being blamed for having blocked the fire exits, which left most people trapped in the building. In Uganda, and Kampala especially, the city council has been blamed for approving building plans that lack safety provisions. Whereas Nakumatt might have had a fire exit, many buildings in this town do not have such provisions. Even simple gadgets like fire extinguishers are lacking. In the case that a fire breaks out, these buildings turn into death traps.
My heart reaches out to all those that lost their dear ones in the tragic Kenyan incidents, but that should serve as a lesson to authorities on disaster preparedness and management.