SURVIVING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN NAIROBI’S URBAN INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS
A day passed, a week and now it has been months since the first case of coronavirus disease (covid-19) was reported in Kenya. The covid 19 pandemic has paralyzed social-economic programs including learning across the country, and more so, negatively impacted on livelihoods. Even with all this happening, life has to move on with individual and businesses bracing for the “new normal” of regular hand washing, sanitizing, wearing of masks, and maintaining of social distance, to say the least. Residents, especially from most urban informal settlements, continue to ponder this “new normal” with more questions than answers. “What next for their children, jobs and families?”
Despite the pandemic, there have been continued human rights violations stemming from forced evictions, police brutality, and forced quarantine for suspected positive COVID 19 patients in some Cases. In June and July 2020 Hakijamii embarked on a mission to document social-economic challenges faced by people in Kibra, Kariobangi South, Kabete, and Deep sea informal settlements in Nairobi City County. The objective was to bring out social-economic effects occasioned by the Covid19 pandemic and escalate these concerns to relevant authorities and the general public to take action towards addressing outstanding problems faced by people living in the informal settlements.
Our first visit leads us to Ms. Prisca’s home in Kariobangi South, a makeshift house that a Good Samaritan helped her out with, following the Kariobangi demolitions that left 5,000 families homeless. A single room where she shelters with her three children: 12 years, 10 years, and 1 month respectively. Prisca doesn’t have a job but despite this, she has to buy water which goes for 20 shillings per 20 liter Jeri can, and even in these hard times, she has to fend for her family.
“In these hard times, where will you get a job? The landlord needs money, where will you get it? You buy water, you still have to buy a mask. And still, I have to fend for my family” says Ms. Prisca
Prisca is one of the thousands of Kenyans who are trying to embrace the new normal even after facing forced evictions in Kariobangi south in the wake of Coronavirus pandemic. According to Article 43 Section (b), of the constitution, every Kenyan has a right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation. This Section has however been violated as residents in Kariobangi continue to shelter in the cold without any alternative mode of accommodation. They were forcefully evicted despite the existence of a court order.
Deep sea informal settlement
Kariobangi is not the only informal settlement that is currently affected. The deep sea area is also sailing in the same boat. According to Diana, most single mothers in the settlement are casual laborers. Since the pandemic started, a lot of them have lost their livelihoods since their employers thought it wise to put them on hold until things get back to normal. This means that there is no job, no income, and no rent! Thinking of how to even practice social distancing is quite a task as other families have 6 members in a single household.
NITD village informal settlement, which is located in Kabete, has an estimated 1,000 residents. Parents in this area are grappling with not only livelihood questions but also on their children’s right to access education through online platforms. According to Ms. Eunice, the hardest part has been seeing her grandchild miss learning because she can’t afford a smartphone.
“I just let him go outside and play with his peers. I do not have a smartphone. Even if I had it, how could I understand what I am supposed to teach him? Today’s learning is so different from our time. I do not even have enough money to give him so that he can go get revision materials in a cyber café. I see him miss school and there is nothing I can do about it”
Kibra Informal Settlement
As far as the business has been shaken, Ms. Teresa who hails from Kibra informal settlement and does business in Toi Market has been doing a tailoring job and has specialized in the uniform making since 2007, but now that the schools are closed until January 2021, she bears the brunt of slow business and losses. For her, the new normal is that she will have to re-invent herself to patching clothes and try making Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to earn a living. She indicates that the effects of covid19 will negatively impact her business for a long time before things get back to normal.
With the rising cases of teenage pregnancies in various parts of the country, Peter, a resident in Kibra constituency and a father of five faults the government for pushing the academic calendar to next year. According to him, “if schools would re-open now, we would not be having such high cases of teenage pregnancies”. Since the pandemic hit, 20,828 girls aged between 10 and 14 years have become mothers while the older girls aged between 15-19 years, 24,106 are either pregnant or mothers already. According to statistics, between January and May, 4,000 girls aged below 19 years were reported pregnant in Machakos County. Moreover, according to a local publication, Daily Nation, Nakuru County reported 1,748 teen pregnancies, Kajiado 1,523, Kericho 1,006, Homa Bay 957, and Garissa 901, while other counties such as Lamu, Embu and Elgeyo Marakwet each reported about 50 cases of teen pregnancies. In a bid to win this battle on teenage pregnancy, the government should prioritize and fully fund Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as part of their COVID-19 response plans, recognizing the essential and life-saving nature of these services.
The covid-19 pandemic has brought about hardships and human rights violations especially to the urban poor. Adhering to the Ministry of Health (MoH) guidelines in most informal settlements has proven to be a task given measures such as social distancing are not easy to implement, continuous evictions have rendered thousands homeless thus they cannot “stay home and stay safe”. Even so, there is a need for the government to stop evictions during such times and as well provide essential services in the midst of this pandemic.
There is also a need to find ways to provide access to online learning to learners especially from the vulnerable and marginalized areas that are lagging behind due to challenges in accessing online learning materials. Given the pandemic has ushered in a “new normal” of doing things the urban poor must not be left behind during this transition.
The author is the communications person at Hakijamii email@example.com