Inside the airport: masses of water wherever one looked. Check-in personnel, officials on duty at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), and hundreds of passengers rushed out of the terminals to prevent getting soaked. Was it torrential rain that had collected and penetrated through the roofs and was now splashing down into the international departure terminals 1C and 1E? Or was it a broken water pipe that had triggered the torrents? This is currently being investigated - at the highest political level in Kenya.
“If it goes on like this, we'll soon have a seaport here and no longer an airport,” a horrified and soaked passenger who had just rushed through Terminal 1C on her way to the departure gate, said sarcastically.
Hundreds of travelers eager to fly off and others that had just arrived at the neighboring Terminal, were facing the same situation. Water everywhere. Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary, Kipchumba Murkomen has formed a committee to investigate JKIA’s flooding, including the state of the infrastructure of Kenya’s major airports - particularly Jomo Kenyatta and Kisumu International, located at the shores of Lake Victoria. The group of controllers will be headed by Walter Ogolla, Director Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).
A neutral investigation is requested
Critics object that this personnel decision calls into question the neutrality of the commission. It would have been better and, above all, more credible to assign this task to an independent expert, claimed a member of the opposing party, Azimio La Umoja. In the presidential election on 15AUG22, Azimio La Umoja was only narrowly defeated by the winner, the United Democratic Alliance, with a difference of 1.46% of the vote.
Was corruption in play?
Following Murkomen’s committee announcement, Nairobi Senator, Edwin Sifuna demanded answers by the investigators as to why JKIA was twice hit by floods within a timespan of just 5 years. The controllers should also provide the names of the contractors involved in the maintenance of the two airports, he urged. In addition, he asked the committee “to provide the identities of public officers who certified the construction and maintenance works as completed, outlining the actions taken against those responsible for the certification of poor workmanship,” Mr. Sifuna stated, indirectly indicating corruption practices.
Opaque contractual situations
Policymaker Murkomen, who is responsible for transportation in Kenya, blamed former President Uhuru Kenyatta's regime for the leakages, claiming the contractor brought on board by the previous administration did a shoddy job. “Over the 10 years [of Kenyatta’s ruling, HS], JKIA has suffered inadequate facility and infrastructure upgrades,” Murkomen complained. So far, the government has not published who the general contractor for the construction of the airport building was nor which companies were awarded contracts.
Calamities are nothing new to JKIA
The ingress of large volumes of water into parts of the terminal complex last week, was not the first debacle that has hit JKIA. On 07AUG13, a fire engulfed the airport, forcing the suspension of international passenger flights and choking a main travel gateway to east Africa. Although many international passenger flights were diverted to Mombasa and some other airports, the blaze stranded thousands of travelers at NBO. Shippers of temperature critical perishable produce, mainly flowers, feared for their export-driven business, a leading source of foreign currency earnings for Kenya alongside tea exports and tourism.
However, last week’s flooding only affected the air freight business marginally. Cargo is handled in a separate area of JKIA, a few hundred meters away from the passenger terminals. Only lower deck transport capacity was temporarily down due to the diversion of most international passenger flights.
Dubai hit by heavy rainfall as well
Over at the United Arab Emirates, multiple flights had to be cancelled last Friday (17NOV23) due to heavy rain and thunderstorms. Thirteen inbound flights had to be redirected to other airports, while six outbound flights were cancelled, a speaker of Dubai Airports told local agencies. The airport operator advised passengers to use the Dubai Metro, check traffic updates and give themselves plenty of time to reach Dubai International Airport, in addition to checking for flight updates online. There is no official information on whether cargo flights were also affected by the extreme weather conditions. In the meantime, the torrential rainfall has stopped, and climatic conditions have returned to normal.
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