Building Urban Flood Resilience: Integrating Community Perspectives

Flooding and Vulnerability in Kibera

The occurrence of floods is the most frequent of all natural disasters. In a recent survey of 100 municipalities, the Rockefeller Foundation found that flooding tops the list of 'resilience challenges' for cities. In Kenya 2.10 million people were affected by flood-related disasters between 1990 and mid-2004. In slums, where 1.5 million of Nairobi's residents live, the twin trajectories of rapid urbanization and increased flooding, driven partly by climate change, collide.

Flooding in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, causes death and destruction annually, and is a regular news item. Kibera is located on the Ngong River, one of the three major river systems in the Nairobi River Basin, with an estimated total of 30,000 people living within 30m of the main watercourses. In Kibera the cheapest rents are found along the rivers and streams where the risk of flooding is highest. The poorest and most vulnerable residents are willing to risk their lives and assets to have a chance of staying in the city.

A flood risk-management toolkit for Kibera

In 2015 and 2016 KDI worked with residents to build the resilience of communities in Kibera to adapt and respond to flooding. The project was grounded in the principal that people in Kibera can and must be involved in identifying solutions to the challenges they face, alongside governmental agencies responsible for flood risk reduction. The work was predicated on an in-depth consultation and participatory analysis over 4 months with community groups, households and local government, with the aim of not just gathering information but taking action.

The longer-term objective of this project was to create a "toolkit" to inform flood risk reduction strategies in Kibera (and ultimately in other informal settlements) while incorporating local perspectives. The toolkit comprises information from the community level, flood hazard mapping developed through hydrological and hydraulic modeling and physical surveying, vulnerability and flood risk assessment, and policy prescriptions for applying the toolkit in Kibera and elsewhere.

The project also included the creation of two physical flood protection schemes in Kibera identified and developed using the toolkit. These schemes improved flood resilience and created public spaces as environmental buffer zones to flooding. These physical projects 'ground-tested' the effectiveness of the tool and also piloted landscape-driven engineering approaches to flood protection that could be used at multiple scales and locations. The ultimate goal of the project was to influence approaches to spatial planning for flood alleviation not just in Kibera and Nairobi, but in other rapidly urbanizing cities around the world.

The project was funded by the Swiss Re Foundation and represented a new phase in KDI's work on bringing together the issues of public space, water, sanitation, flooding and watershed remediation, from the perspectives of community, but also from the perspective of supporting appropriate governmental engagement. The work was led by KDI and undertaken in partnership with the Urban Rivers and Rehabilitation Program at the Ministry of Environment, BuroHappold Engineering and International Alert. 

For more information, read the following reports:

Integrated Flood Risk Management in Slums: Applying 1-D Modelling in Kibera, Nairobi

The Institutional and Regulatory Context for Flood Risk Reduction in Nairobi, Kenya; Final Briefing Paper (2015-2016)

Building Urban Flood Resilience: Integrating Community Perspectives; Final Report (2015-2016)



Flooding KPSP Sites


Household Surveys

Community Workshop

Understanding Vulnerability