IMPACT OF COVID-19 IN INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS IN KENYA
As the world celebrated the “World Water Day 2020”, global countries have been adversely affected by the COVID 19 crisis that calls for good hygiene practices including frequent hand washing. Worldwide 2.2 billion do not have access to safe water. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and with the number of its cases rising steadily in the past days, several emergency responses have been put in place to prevent its spread. The provision of safe water is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak. If safe, adequate and sufficient water is provided in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces and health care facilities, human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus will be prevented. Frequent and proper hand hygiene is one of the most important measures that can be used to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus. Many co-benefits will be realized by safely managing water and sanitation services. Such efforts will prevent many other infectious diseases, which cause millions of deaths each year, especially in the urban informal settlements. Unfortunately, the urban poor in Kenya does not have access to safe and adequate water, making them even more vulnerable to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
32% of the Kenyan population lives in urban areas, with an annual urban population growth of 3% needing water and other resources. The urban growth trend poses the challenge of service provision including water, sewer and garbage collection not matching the urbanization rates due to weak planning perspectives. The situation is made even worse by the fact that people living in informal settlements/low-income areas are paying expensively for water than those living in formal settlements because cartels are now controlling and selling water to unsuspecting urban poor. This is largely due to water services’ lack of sustainable service models, thereby introducing inequalities. Because the service provision is market driven, the private players provide services to the formal settlements, ignoring the informal settlements in urban areas.
Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees every Kenyan citizen the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities. There is need for a more robust water governance for harmonization of pro-poor water policies, both at the national and county level, and engaging the public more in the decision making processes and collaboration during policy formulation, implementation, and tracking. There is also a growing ask to enhance access to and sharing of best practices in water resource management in the country, drawing on both the county, national and international experiences. Furthermore, various institutions are called upon to enhance coordination of water related multi-stakeholder efforts, to build on and strengthen existing structures where possible, and to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 in the urban informal settlements.
With the global pandemic only becoming worse, the Government and other stakeholders should think of sustainable measures to provide clean and safe water to informal settlements. As a matter of urgency Government should take back this important role and dismantle existing cartels in the settlements that sell water at high prices. Government should also as a matter of urgency in partnership with the community build sanitation blocks with constant water supply in the informal settlements. The response by the Government should address the systemic challenges facing informal settlements on matters water and sanitation. Urging the urban poor to adhere to frequent hand washing as a measure to prevent COVID 19 yet water is unavailable in the settlements is a big failure on the part of Government. As part of the emergency funds put in place to fight COVID 19 in Kenya, provision of accessible and safe water in the settlements should be a top priority.