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Pipe blast 'disaster in-waiting'

The Kenyan government was repeatedly warned about the dangers of people living on top of a petrol pipeline that leaked fuel and exploded, killing 95 people, experts said.

Families living in Kenya's slums were vulnerable to explosions, electrocution, fires, poisoning and other disasters because politicians anxious for votes would not enforce city codes, they said.

The three largest slums in the capital of Nairobi - home to more than 500,000 people - are on land unsuitable for human habitation, according to 2008 research by the University of Nairobi, said Peter Ngau, a professor in the department of urban and regional planning at the university.

The report, which was presented to government, had warned that the Sinai slum was built on top of a petrol pipeline and a sewer leading from the industrial centre. On Monday the pipeline burst a gasket, gushing petrol into the sewer, where it ignited as hundreds of slum residents were fetching it, according to those who survived the fire.

The death toll from the disaster rose to 95 on Wednesday as more people died of their injuries, said Pamela Indiaka, an official with the Kenya Red Cross. One person died on Tuesday night and six people died on Wednesday in the hospital, she said. Another body was also recovered from a river which cuts across the slum.

More than 100 people were taken to hospital with burns.

"It's just disasters waiting to happen," said Prof Ngau. "It is just by the grace of God that they do not happen more."

In Kibera, Kenya's largest slum, residents live in mud-walled, iron-roofed structures dangerously close to railway lines that carry fuel and dangerous chemicals, he said. In Mathare, the second biggest slum, people live on steep slopes prone to mudslides. In the third largest slum of Mukuru, shacks sprung up under high voltage electricity lines.

"The government knows people are living on this pipeline. The reason they let this slum exist is because they get votes from the slum," said 47-year-old Donald Wafula, a resident of Sinai. "It is very easy to control people who are hungry, but not people who are full."

Government policy is to move people out of slums on unsuitable land, said Prof Ngau, but it is not followed. "We have very good policies ... the policies for informal settlement and housing are there but they are never implemented," he said.

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