CORONA EFFECTS

Hunger major concern for urban poor - World Bank

With the ongoing global pandemic, the trade of fear is between hunger and disease for majority of low-income earners

In Summary

•The World Bank estimates that 95 per cent of Kenya’s businesses and entrepreneurs operate within the informal sector meaning there are 17.2 million informal sector workers in the country

•Overcrowded housing, lack of infrastructure and lack of services and a lack of broadband connection have made the poor urban more vulnerable to impacts of Covid-19, both health and economic

Kibera slum in Nairobi.
Kibera slum in Nairobi.
Image: REUTERS

Forced social distancing and confinement as a result of the coronavirus may result in hunger for the urban poor, World Bank has said.

The bank's global director for urban, risk management, resilience, and land Sameh Wahba said with the ongoing global pandemic, low-income earners have to balance between fear of the disease and hunger.

“A majority of the population has employment in the informal sector with irregular incomes, without savings, living hand to mouth,” he said.

 

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows in December 2019, Kenyans engaged in the modern and informal sectors went up from 17.3 million in 2018 to 18.1 million in 2019.

The World Bank estimates that 95 per cent of Kenya’s businesses and entrepreneurs operate within the informal sector meaning there are 17.2 million informal sector workers in the country.

These are the domestic workers, cleaners, beauticians, mechanics, and street vendors, among others who largely contribute to the country’s economy despite having few protections such as unemployment benefits, safety regulations, or social security.

Wahba said overcrowded housing, lack of infrastructure and lack of services and a lack of broadband connection have made the poor urban more vulnerable to impacts of Covid-19, both health and economic.

“Whether in Nairobi or in some of the townships in Johannesburg or elsewhere we are seeing violence flaring up,” he said.

Since the first case or coronavirus was reported on March 13, the government has introduced stringent measures aimed at minimising the spread of the disease.

The government shut down schools, banned religious gatherings, and suspended most international flights. It also asked businesses to allow staff to work from home, with the exception of employees working in critical or essential services among other measures.

 

Wahba said, while these measures are key in flattening the curve, the government needs to implement a stimulus package especially to the informal sector workers.

“Cash transfers, food distribution and support on water and sanitation to ensure that in a context of social distancing and confinement they are not negatively impacted that you can compensate for the disrupted livelihoods,” he said.

He added that local governments need increased support because despite declining budgets, with increasing responsibilities in this crisis, cities still need to deliver services.

“Budgets are expected to shrink anywhere between 15-20 per cent in the coming year,” Wahba said.

World Bank estimates globally, 100 million people will be the new poor who will be mostly in cities, which are heavily impacted by the coronavirus.

Wahba said the new normal, post-COVID-19 will include improving infrastructure and housing that have been seen as hotspots as well as helping cities better prepare for similar emergencies.