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New guidelines for healthy housing unveiled

The Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) and Habitat for Humanity International have today launched guidelines to educate the industry players and the general public on the relationship between housing and health.

The guidelines also outline the various elements one needs to look out for when planning to build or rent a home.

Dubbed “Healthy Homes Guidelines and Checklist”, the guidelines outline 15 pillars to look into to achieve a healthy home and a matrix at the end that could be filled and tallied to check the health status of a home.

Speaking during the launch, Principal Secretary, State Department for Public Works Mr. Solomon Kitungu said the guidelines provided design standards that would help all housing typologies, including those in informal settlements, to be resilient to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Kitungu noted that the pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of Kenya’s housing situation, especially in informal settlements.

“As we navigate the third year of the pandemic and adapt to the new normal, combining the Right to the City, the Right to Housing, and the Right to Health puts us one step closer to building back better as we leave no one or no place behind,” said Kitungu.

He stated that the pandemic changed the status quo which Kenyans must adapt or perish adding that with more activities happening at home than the traditional definition, there is a need to redefine, redesign, and reimagine how buildings and homes should be constructed or redesigned post COVID-19 pandemic.

The PS highlighted that the guidelines are cognizant of the fact that most builders were self-builders who engaged artisans and unqualified contractors.

He added that they provide the minimum standard which should be adhered to during construction and renovation and could guide the vetting of already constructed homes.

“It is therefore important that these guidelines are cascaded to reach these persons so they have health in mind as they construct houses in Kenya,” he said.

Present in the event, Chairman, National Construction Authority (NCA) Mr. David Gaitho said the guidelines were coming at a critical time when the country has been experiencing a rampant collapse of buildings.

“We firmly believe that this intervention will improve the housing situation in this country and will greatly support the government’s plan to roll out massive affordable housing programs,” said Gaitho.

He called upon the construction regulators; county governments, the National Construction Authority, the National Building Inspectorate, and the National Environment Management Authority, to work with the private sector and professionals to bring an end to this menace.

In his remarks, AAK President Arch Wilson Mugambi said the Association is willing to work with all the stakeholders in implementing the Healthy Homes Guidelines and Checklist and help solve this peril while promoting professionalism and integrity in the built and natural environment.

He noted that the launch follows the signing of a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between AAK and Habitat for Humanity International in which both parties expressed their willingness to engage in an effort to promote innovations in shelter, adoption, and popularization of healthy housing best practices through joint research and information sharing targeting households, built environment professionals, artisans, and policymakers.

“A healthy home significantly contributes to the physical and mental well-being of those living in it,” said Mugambi.

He added that the majority of Kenyans living in urban areas have homes in informal settlements which are characterized by a very dense population, inadequate infrastructure and very low cost and low-quality houses that expose them to health risks.

Mugambi noted that surveys conducted in rural areas found that the majority of people lived in houses that were evidently lacking in suitable design elements that support healthy living such as adequate lighting, ventilation, and sanitation among others.

Vector proofing is also a major issue that affects the inhabitants of informal settlements and low-cost houses where the design elements do not protect the inhabitants from attacks by disease-causing vectors such as mosquitoes.

Yet most of these vectors could be controlled through proper house designs and improvements, he said, adding that surveys showed that 80 percent of buildings in Kenya were built without engaging professionals.

By Catherine Muindi

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