Kenyan pipeline (?) tragedy

There are numerous media reports today of around 100 fatalities (and presumably many more serious injuries) that occurred when spilled fuel ignited in a Nairobi slum.  One report is here, numerous others can be found through Google, with this one from local Kenyan media being more informative than most.  As usual the reports are sketchy on detail but many of them refer to a large spill from a pipeline.  Others refer to a depot of the Kenya Pipeline Company so it seems likely to have been a failure inside the facility rather than a transmission pipeline.

Anyway, it seems that a large volume of petrol (?) ran down a watercourse in a densely populated area and some reports say that it continued for hours.  Rather than fleeing, the local people congregated to collect the fuel for sale or use, with the inevitable consequences when it ignited.

It’s worth thinking about why such terrible events don’t happen in developed countries:

  • Infrastructure is better built, inspected and maintained so it is less likely to fail (umm … San Bruno?)
  • The public would know to keep away from a fuel spill or gas leak (umm … when there was a minor failure on a Melbourne-Geelong pipeline the first police to arrive parked directly over the leak)
  • Emergency services would immediately take control and keep people away (umm … as above)
  • The pipeline operator would immediately shut down and isolate the leak and take control of the situation (umm … San Bruno?)

Umm … maybe we should not be complacent about the worst that could happen.

Admittedly these events do seem to happen considerably more often in developing countries.  One can only speculate that the frequency may be higher because standards of design, construction and maintenance may not meet the minimum requirements set in countries like Australia (notwithstanding my comments on San Bruno).  And of course wealthier countries have more resources to commit to safety and perhaps consumers willing to pay more for safety.  But the consequences might be not be dissimilar if such a failure were to happen here.

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