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The Kibera Flood Risk Portal (Rev 03 15.12.22)

The Portal provides information to residents on the level of flood-risk in a certain area and on responses to build local resilience

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Flooding in Kibera causes havoc twice a year. From the results of a survey of 963 households completed by KDI in June 2015, 52% of residents reported flooding of their dwellings in the long-rains of April and May 2015, with 10% of households forced to re-locate. Rents are cheaper along rivers and streams where flood risk is higher, attracting the poorest and most vulnerable residents. As new renters re-occupy these high-exposure households during the dry season, they are not fully aware of the level of risk. Other residents in the area may be missing simple opportunities to reduce the level of risk for their families, households and assets. This project seeks to combine flood-risk mapping (that integrates community-level information on vulnerability with flood extents mapping) with an online interface to provide residents with information about level of risk in a certain area and appropriate responses. The interface will provide a “resilience-wayfinder” that provides linkages to resources such as local-flood preparedness centers, community-resilience initiatives (i.e. micro-finance groups) and relevant government initiatives. It will also provide connections to guidance on local structural adaptation techniques to improve the durability of local houses. Ultimately the project could support a nuanced approach to flood-risk reduction in slums by building local resilience and providing alternatives to large-scale resettlement and costly (non-future proof) engineering solution


The impacts of flooding on residents includes displacement, the destruction of assets, impacts on economic activity and social networks and environmental and health impacts. This settlement-scale project in Kibera will curb the broad social and economic impacts of flooding which are borne disproportionately by the poorest of the urban poor, and especially women, elderly and children.


In slums, where 1.5 million of Nairobi’s residents live, the twin trajectories of rapid urbanisation and increased flooding, driven partly by climate change, collide. In Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, numerous structures are washed away each year, destroying the limited assets of poor households, halting economic activity, contaminating water supply, displacing residents and triggering disease outbreaks. The existing governmental policy for flood protection in Nairobi designates a blanket riparian zone within which all structures are deemed illegal. This has proved unenforceable, creating tensions between residents and implementing agencies and resulting in significant protest. This project provides a gateway for both residents and government to consider a mix of measures that increase local resilience and comprise both structural and non-structural responses that are cheaper, more climate-responsive, and less socially disruptive than large engineering projects. Connection to the app or the web-portal would be mobile in part: 40% of residents report having an internet-enabled phone (from KDI’s 2015 household survey). For those without smartphones the “resilience-wayfinder” application could be made available at key locations (e.g. chieftaincy offices, public spaces) using a docked ipad. Ultimately it is hoped that a flood-risk map for Kibera grounded in up to date community information would enable a more nuanced understanding of risk and responses at the governmental level, and hence generate alternatives to large-scale displacement.


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


KDI is a design and community development organization that partners with communities living in extreme poverty to physically transform degraded environments, build social cohesion and grow resilience. KDI has been working with residents and community partners in Kibera since 2006.


This is a new idea coming out of ongoing work. KDI is currently leading a two-year (2015-2016) research/action program on integrating community perspectives to build resilience to flooding in Kibera. One of the aims of the project is to produce a flood-risk map for Kibera that would combine flood extents with data on vulnerability collected with residents. One of the questions we’re exploring for a next stage in this work is how, by whom and for what could the flood-risk map be used. This idea takes the flood-risk mapping that we are already working on and develops it. We have only started thinking about and testing this idea as part of the Amplify collaboration and there is some way to go to figure out how it could work. We have worked on a related project in 2013, WATSAN Portal: Kibera, which piloted a webtool to enable residents to take better decisions about water and sewerage connections. This process taught us a lot about the challenges and opportunities of this approach.


In many places flood-risk maps are on public record. They support formal planning decisions but also empower residents to engage, discuss, debate and critique those decisions. While flood extents are supposedly considered in planning processes in Nairobi the criteria applied can be opaque, especially in the case of the informal areas. The Flood Risk Portal provides flood-risk information much as a conventional flood-risk map, but goes much further to provide directions and avenues to respond to flood-risk on multiple levels. It is based on robust and detailed information collected from and with residents. It can be used as a tool for action – e.g. for residents to take autonomous action to improve flood resilience – or for advocacy – e.g. to campaign for better drainage provision from the County. KDI is in a unique position to combine the technical knowledge, community legitimacy and political engagement to turn this into something real. In response to our research on flooding in Kibera we have had requests for collaboration from various bodies involved in flood-risk management including the Dept. Public Works at the Nairobi County and the Technical University of Kenya.


While 40% of residents report having an internet-enabled phone (from KDI’s 2015 survey of 963 households) preferences for receiving info about flood-risk was from more traditional means: radio (68%), word of mouth (33%), TV (26%) and community leaders (11%). While cell phone remains a popular medium (36%), social media (4%) was less so. We need to figure out which users could/would access via mobile and other internet, and then how to facilitate accurate dissemination beyond that point. This is how the idea of the public-access “resilience-wayfinder” came-in, and how we also developed the physical “Kibera Flood Line”, which could complement the Portal and reach other non-connected users.


Integrated catchment management is complex and requires coordination across geographical and political boundaries. Nairobi’s drainage system is not well understood as part of a larger system and is notoriously under capacity. In the slum context the tension between encroachment into the riparian zone and a lack of government agency compounds these macro challenges. The Portal is a first step breaking down these larger problems into manageable chunks. It demonstrates how to translate a technical understanding of flood-risk to: 1. enable residents to reduce their own risk, and 2. provide information that could support larger solutions for drainage, solid waste and flood protection.


Feedback from the community was gathered via an urban flooding “open-day” in Kibera on Friday 20th November organized by KDI as part of Nairobi Design Week. One of the exercises asked different user groups (residents close to river, residents away from river, “outsiders” (non-Kiberans) and community groups) to discuss/vote on different responses to flooding in Kibera. Overall people saw drainage in particular as the most immediate challenge which was reinforced at a wider group session (see video). Useful feedback was given about the Portal idea, including a request that SMS-based information could be linked in, and that people could upload information about flood events and damages. The feasibility of these ideas needs further testing. Another development was getting feedback on the technical side of the idea. According to discussions held with modelling specialists last week in Nairobi the 1D Hydrological Modelling that we have applied is a process well understood in universities and research centres, but not widely applied in practice. This suggests that the Portal could provide a test-case for how modelling could be applied in the context of the urban informal, but which also has relevance to the wider city, especially as we have used using an open-license modelling tool. User experience mapping demonstrated to us that while residents are the primary users, we also need to think about how this tool could be eventually adopted by government (to serve residents).


The question of how urban rivers are treated has come to influence and define the identity of many cities. Proposing an integrated and community-engaged approach to riparian management is not new, however there are limited examples of the delivery and evaluation of such an approach in the context of urban informal settlements. A real and responsive flood-risk map for Kibera is a first practical step in enabling the urban design, infrastructural and planning potential of creating networks of public space and access along the waterways of Kibera, to support social and economic development, to provide an ecological buffer, and improve urban resilience.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

The Flood Risk Portal has the potential to link scales of adaptation between community and government. Mapping that shows flood-risk, but also settlement patterns, local drainage, topography and the location of municipal infrastructure enables an integrated “community responsive adaptation” (e.g. by taking solid waste collected from drainage to a central collection point, or by connecting a new ablution block to the municipal sewer). Robust flood risk mapping should provide the basis for decision-making on structural and non-structural interventions at the City scale. From the gov. perspective a flood-risk map for Kibera grounded in up to date community information would enable a more nuanced understanding of risk and the actual needs (and alternatives) to large-scale resettlement. This integrated approach has not been delivered in Nairobi to date - developing this idea (and using open source modelling) could provide gov. agencies with real information on the feasibility and costs.
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Attachments (2)

OpenIDEO User Perspective Mapping Flood Risk Portal concept.pdf

Initial user mapping for the Flood Risk Portal.

KDI Bulding Urban Flood Resilience.pdf

Summary of work undertaken to date on the Kibera Public Space Project and its connection to urban flood resilience. Includes summary of in-depth research and consultation undertaken in 2015 under "Building Urban Flood Resilience" program funded by the Swiss Re Foundation. The initial finding from this research have informed the ideas included here.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi KDI Team!
Below is a question from our experts. We look forward to reading your response!

Do you have a sense of how many slum residents are likely to use a internet technology for information?

Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

Hey Chioma and Team!

Thanks very much for the feedback.

This is a really important question that we have also been considering.
Earlier this year we did a detailed survey of 963 households over 5 different areas in Kibera (4 of which are in high-flood exposure, high-vulnerability areas) and gathered a lot of useful information. 40% of households reported having an internet-enabled phone. This is pretty consistent with what our friends Spatial Collective  recently found in Mathare (another informal settlement in Nairobi) - see: As mentioned in this piece, Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile operator, reported that the vast majority of phones sold in 2014 were internet enabled.

In terms of general internet access “cybers” are a common business in Kibera where people can readily access internet throughout the settlement. Last year the government announced a plan to provide free wifi across Kibera (see:, though it remains to be seen if this will actually happen.

Overall this all suggests that internet access, particularly via mobile, is relatively high and likely to grow. However the question of whether people would use internet to access the type of information put forward in the Portal is more complex... In the same survey we asked what peoples' preferences were for receiving info about flood-risk with interesting results. The preferences were skewed towards more traditional means of communication with radio (68%) being the highest, followed by word of mouth (33%), TV (26%) and community leaders (11%). At the same time the cell phone remains a popular medium (36%), but social media (including Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp - all popular with Kibera youth) was less so (4%).

The preference for information via cell phone of 36% suggests that mobile internet is a viable medium for reaching a significant portion of the population, even in the most vulnerable areas, but that it would need to be complemented with other means of communication... hence the Flood Risk Portal could perhaps be part of a suite of interventions that would make flood-risk information more widely available. This could be via large-format printouts of the flood risk mapping, as well as physical markers throughout the settlement (this idea is explored in our “Kibera Flood Line” idea submission to the OpenIDEO platform).

Another way we had discussed making the internet version more readily available for those without smartphones is to create a series of “resilience-wayfinders” i.e. making the online application available at key public locations (e.g. chieftaincy offices, public gathering spaces) using a docked ipad and local wifi connection.

This is definitely a major consideration for the Portal idea and we appreciate any further feedback or ideas you might have!

Thanks again! The KDI Team.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Thanks so much for this response! Could you tell us a little more about what you learned through the WATSAN initiative you undertook in 2013 and what learnings might be applicable to this idea?

Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

Hi Chioma!


Our project has definetly been instructive in thinking about the Flood Risk Portal/Resilience Wayfinder idea. Although in a slightly different sector - the WATSAN project is focused on connection to municipal water and sanitation - the fundamental idea of making real information available to residents of Kibera (and other informal settlements) to enable better decision-making is fundamentally the same.

Some of the key lessons that might be relevant to developing the Flood Risk Portal idea:
Boundaries + Scale - The project was a pilot in 2 of Kibera’s 13 villages. Though this was logical in terms of starting small and testing it limits the tool’s coverage and effectiveness as many potential water/sewerage projects straddle the boundaries we’d imposed. It also constrained our launch strategy, which was by necessity a much softer-launch than a Kibera wide solution would have been. In retrospect scaling the pilot to the Kibera settlement would have made the launch and testing of the pilot much more comprehensive and accessible. In a similar way we have much of the baseline data for the Flood Risk Portal idea at the settlement scale, and so launching at the larger Kibera scale would be possible.

Placefinding/Placemaking - Although Kibera is one informal settlements that has benefited from crowd-mapping (it has its own Open Streets Map and MapKibera), our workshops showed that even these base maps were insufficient for community members to locate themselves and their projects in an online setting. Because place-making is an important part of navigating Kibera, correctly identifying and naming landmarks on the map was a key alteration and addition to the existing data. This would need to be re-visited to develop and implement the Flood Risk Portal as locating houses/areas is a fundamental part of the idea. Adding aerial layers that show building rooftops and shapes so users could more easily identify important landmarks and labelling landmarks by their colloquial names, in addition to formal names, are a couple of strategies that could be employed…

Enable Mobile - The was developed primarily for web viewing and though a mobile version was always intended we didn’t have the time or resources to develop it as far as we would have liked. Based on the info we’ve gathered since on mobile access in Kibera having a really great mobile interface would be a super important part of the project.

Complementary Platforms - The WATSAN pilot really focused on the web version. What was brought home through user-experience testing with different groups was how different groups responded to different types of information. Hence the idea of the Flood Risk Portal being part of a suite of interventions that would make flood-risk information more widely available through different mediums (i.e. physical projects, markers, maps, workshops).

Incentives + Needs - Needs and incentives around improved WATSAN services and reduced flood-risk have very different but very real economic and social drivers. In the WATSAN pilot we were able to incorporate the economics of making a new connection, which helped people weigh up their choices. In a similar way it might be possible with the Flood Risk Portal idea to incorporate data on damage and public health impacts of flooding that would give people a shape to their decisions and trade-offs.

Ownership/Maintenance - The WATSAN Portal was derived out of a gap in service provision that would typically filled by the municipal service provider (i.e. the water utility) in many cities. Our partnership with the water utility to develop the project was always intended to hand over ownership of the process and product to the utility, though that process requires considerable time and investment in capacity building and coordination. The Flood Risk Portal is similar in that it fills a gap that might typically be filled by an Environment Agency type organisation in other cities/countries, though in reality having this as a public service is a long way-off in Nairobi. The Flood Risk Portal could work as a partnership with the government, or it could be an independent and insurgent project. In both cases community consultation would be central to the process, though the dynamic is changed significantly depending on the approach... The fundamental lesson though from WATSAN Portal is making sure to decide what the ownership/maintenance model it is at the beginning, and then properly planning and resourcing that part of the project. Ownership is probably the most critical unanswered question at this stage.

Ok, lots of stuff here, and there is probably much more to learn if we re-visit the WATSAN Portal process (mapping, interface design etc.), and definitely very useful in thinking about the practical design and community challenges of this idea!

Thanks! joe@KDI.

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Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Kounkuey! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of wekesa zab

Hallo KDI,
This looks like something the community here might want to invest time in, Study and offer feedback.
Kindly get in touch, we host monthly meet-ups at PAWA254 Nairobi From 2pm.

Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

Hi Wakesa, great to hear from you and we'd love to collaborate! Can we get in touch by email or phone or shall we try and connect at PAWA254 soon? Best, Joe@KDI

Photo of wekesa zab

Nice to connect, so we have one tomorrow, from 2pm. . Exploring work on crisis mapping am made to think Ushahidi. thou we have amazing examples of work being done by the red cross and map Kibera . Lets continue Exploring possibilities. Water is a challenge when it comes to people settled in these river valleys and low altitude areas ( low income settlements) , How might communities living in this regions Leverage on abundance to secure supplies for the future?

Thanks for getting back to me Joe