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Where death stares at tenants in the face

Hundreds of families in a city estate are gambling with their lives sharing apartment blocks with mini factories.

Greedy landlords in Kariobangi have rented out the lower floors of their blocks to the factories, which use hazardous chemicals to manufacture about anything, from paint to shoe polish, liquor and detergents. Tenants occupying the upper floors are exposed to dangers ranging from fires, diseases and pollution.

Worse than Sinai

Two years ago, eight people, among them five members of one family, were burnt to death after such a factory caught fire, razing down the block. The victims were trapped on the upper floors as the building did not have an emergency exit.

In interviews with NairobiNews, many residents expressed fear regarding their safety and health.

“The noise from the factories can make you insane but we have been forced to get used to it because the rent is cheap,” said Michael Maina amid deafening buzz and constant hum of machines from Stewah Engineering Works, which is two floors below his single roomed house.

Maina pays Sh2,000 a month for the  house but a similar room in neighbouring Huruma estate would cost him not less than Sh3,500.The factory produces steel products and operates for 24 hours, stopping only when there is a power outage.

Christine Akinyi, whose house is next to Guinea Shoe Polish factory, admitted to living in constant fear of a fire, given the flammable chemicals the factory uses.

“You cannot rule out possibility of a fire here because of the chemicals and the gas cylinders,” she said.

Shoe polish is manufactured by heating a mixture of naphtha, lanolin, turpentine, ethylene and charcoal dust or dye, all toxic and flammable.

“The government should decide whether to close down the factories or tell us to move because should a disaster strike, the outcome will be worse than Sinai,” she said.

Two years ago, a fire in Sinai slum, Lungalunga, resulted in the deaths of more than 120 people.

Some Kariobangi residents, however, remain oblivious to the dangers the factories pose.

“People don’t worry too much about that. What you think of is how to put the evening meal on the table, whether you will survive a police swoop today or if a mugger is out somewhere waiting for you,” said John Mureithi who lives in one the buildings.

For Mary Nafula, another resident, the danger is minimal.

“It is those who have been employed in the factories that are most at risk, not us,” she said.