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Nairobi, 17 Sept 09

John Kiarie was ecstatic. For the first time in his life he was going to live in a self contained house with running water and electricity.

“I never imagined that I would one day live in a house like this. Just imagine, my wife and I will no longer have to share one room with my children and now I will have running water and electricity,” he enthused.

Mr. Kiarie was one of the 1,300 people who moved from slum shacks to modern apartments built in partnership between the government of Kenya and UN-HABITAT. The scheme under the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme saw residents of one part of Kibera slums move to new high rise flats.

Kenya’s Prime Minister who is also the area member of parliament Raila Odinga, also shared in his constituents’ joy saying that it was the beginning of good things to come.

“Absence of decent housing means abundance of other problems. Today, we take the first step towards meeting the basic needs and rights of slum dwellers and saying no to slum related problems. This is an initial step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Mr. Odinga while helping some of the residents move their meager belongings.

Odinga  was all praises for UN-HABITAT saying the agency had made what once appeared a distant dream, a reality.

Moving from their one room shacks to modern houses was a huge leap in the lives of the slum dwellers. To make the deal even sweeter, the residents will be charged only about 20 US dollars a month for their new houses, an unheard of bargain in Nairobi where rents are usually exorbitant.

Kibera is situated 5 Km Southwest of the city of Nairobi, within the city boundaries. It is the largest informal settlement in Sub- Saharan Africa. An estimate of the total population in the settlement ranges from 500,000 to 800,000 inhabitants: densities of over 3000 people per hectare, make it one of the most densely populated informal settlements in the world.

The prevailing conditions in Kibera, include a lack of basic urban services like water supply, sanitation, solid waste management as well as power and roads. It is such problems which the on-going slum upgrading project seeks to address. As Kiarie and his fellow beneficiaries declared, “this is the best thing we have ever seen and we are forever grateful to the government and UN-HABITAT.”

As trucks loaded with household goods slowly made their way to the new houses, residents perched on top sang their hearts out. “We are going to Canaan, the promised Land,” they sang alluding to the biblical story of how Israelites moved to a new land.

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