Along the Kenyan coastline in Mombasa, Diani, Kilifi, Mtwapa and Malindi areas, highrise buildings continue to sprout unabated, sparking concerns over the future of the country’s beach tourism.
These destinations are popular tourist attractions which not only earn the country billions of shillings but also position it on the global map as a leading beach resort.
But reports that hundreds of building plans have been presented to the respective county governments for approval is a cause for worry among conservationists, tour operators and residents.
Developers see multi-storey buildings as the inevitable solution to a shrinking supply of land as urbanisation, fueled by ballooning population, creeps in along the coastal waterfronts.
However, unchecked highrise developments destroy the landscape of historic sites—and with it comes other ills, including pollution.
The debate occasioned by Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala’s move to object to the construction of a 61-storey luxury hotel in Watamu is necessary if we are to protect aspects of our natural heritage.
Balala wants the National Environment Management Authority to reject the project on grounds that it will destroy Watamu as a beach destination and open the floodgate for such skyscrapers.
On the other hand, local leaders led by Kilifi North MP Owen Baya says the Sh28 billion hotel— touted to be the tallest tower in the country at 350 metres high—should be allowed to continue as it will spur the growth of tourism sector and create employment.
Cognisant of the urbanisation wave, allowing high-rise residential buildings along the beaches will pile pressure on dilapidated sewerage and water supply infrastructure.
Most coastal centres lack proper working sewer lines, therefore, most of the raw sewage finds its way into the Indian Ocean. Therefore, allowing an influx of buildings will undoubtedly culminate in more waste draining into the sea.
Though the development of any kind brings in employment and economic growth, we must find a balance with environmental conservation. The laws that limit the height of buildings in certain areas such as the coastline should be enforced without favour.
The county governments of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu must also enforce their bylaws preventing the building of such structures near the beaches. Amid the clamour for development, we must not destroy our heritage. Development should be sustainable.