UN agencies show how city can be re-energised after Covid-19 crisis

Nairobi can bounce back as a vibrant and appealing metropolis

In Summary

• The amount of cancer-causing elements in the Nairobi air is 10 times higher than the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation.

• The Nairobi leadership should provide more non-motorised transport lanes like it did during the facelift of Luthuli Avenue.


An aerial view of the sprawling Kibera slum in Nairobi: FILE
UNACCEPTABLE HOMES: An aerial view of the sprawling Kibera slum in Nairobi: FILE


Nairobi has been urged to seize the opportunity presented by the Covid-19 pandemic to put its house in order and emerge re-energised as a hub of resilience and innovation.

The call came during the launch of Policy Brief on Covid-19 and Cities by the UN-Habitat and the UNDP on Monday.


The UN agencies said Nairobi can bounce back by tackling inequalities and development deficits.

The Policy Brief was presented by UN-Habitat executive director Maimunah Sharif and UNDP administrator Achim Steiner.

It shows how cities can manage pandemic and emerge vibrant and appealing entities.

Sharif and Steiner told the press during the virtual briefing that the capacities of local actors, in particular, the counties must be strengthened.

"A city like Nairobi, for instance, should put infrastructure in place to attract clean mobility as the new pathway," Steiner said.

He saw no reason for petrol and diesel-fueled boda bodas when electric ones are available at no additional cost.

The UNDP administrator said road safety in Nairobi is a big challenge and needs to be addressed.


Traffic jams, an explosion of slums, poor waste handling, shortage of water and poor sanitation, poor housing, pollution are some of the challenges facing the once green city.

A 2015 study of pollution in Nairobi showed that the amount of cancer-causing elements in the air was 10 times higher than the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The research uncovered dramatic pollution spikes on all main roads. “The pollution is uncontrolled and particularly deadly in slum districts,” it noted.

Kenyan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology scientists predict the country will have “a very sick population in years to come."

The UN Habitat-UNDP policy brief says the outbreak of Covid-19 health crisis has expanded to a crisis of urban access, urban equity, urban finance, safety, joblessness, public services, infrastructure and transport, all of them disproportionally affecting the most vulnerable in society.

The brief says that to safely adhere to Covid-19 physical distancing and hygiene guidelines everyone must have access to adequate housing.

With limited or no income during lockdowns, the urban poor face eviction, while overcrowding in low-quality housing increases the risk of rapid disease transmission.

Steiner said: "There is need for temporary measures to stop people from being pushed out of their homes due to the pandemic shutdown."

Kenya recorded 440 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, raising the country's total to 17,975. Nairobi is the epicentre of the pandemic, having reported over 10,000 cases.

According to the 2019 census, the city has a population of about 4.5 million, 2.5 million of them slum dwellers in 200 settlements. 

The brief notes that several cities have encouraged biking and walking as safe alternatives to public transport during the Covid-19 outbreak, enabling new user groups to take advantage of the affordability and health benefits of these forms of transport.

Sharif challenged the Nairobi leadership to provide more non-motorised transport lanes as it did during the facelift of Luthuli Avenue.

The avenue now has a pedestrian walkway. "The city needs more public spaces," she said.

The policy brief quotes several new scientific studies that suggest that poor air quality is correlated with higher Covid-19 mortality rates.

"For example, a small increase in the fine particulate matter has been associated with an eight per cent increase and up to 21.4 per cent increase in death rates in the US and the Netherlands, respectively."

While pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen sharply during the pandemic when countries halted their economies to contain the spread of the virus, these environmental gains are expected to be temporary if economies reopen without policies in place that prevent air pollution and promote decarbonisation. 


- mwaniki fm