CONGESTION, POVERTY

Covid-19 pandemic ravages city slums —report

Houses are barely a meter apart with up to eight people per room; social distancing is next to impossible

In Summary

•Residents of informal settlements make up nearly half of Nairobi’s population yet there are crammed into only five per cent of residential areas.

• More than 60 per cent of businesses in informal settlements were closed during the partial lockdown, exposing thousands of families to serious economic hardships.

Mukuru, one of the biggest slums in the country.
HARD KNOCK LIFE: Mukuru, one of the biggest slums in the country.
Image: FILE

As many as 60 per cent of all reported cases of Covid-19 infections in Nairobi between March 5 to July 5 were from informal settlements.

A report by the Human Rights Watch dubbed ‘ We are all Vulnerable' released this week on Tuesday said.

Nairobi has approximately eight broad belts of informal settlements. They are Kibera, Mukuru, Korogocho, Mathare, Kangemi, Kawangware, Kayole Soweto and Dagoretti Waithaka.

However, these settlements have been divided into 14 smaller neighbourhoods with 158 village clusters.

“With houses barely a metre apart and up to eight persons per room, social distancing is next to impossible,” the report reads.

Residents of informal settlements make up nearly half of Nairobi’s population.

However, they are crammed into only five per cent of Nairobi’s residential areas and just one per cent of Nairobi.

Nairobi’s population has grown from 510,000 in 1969 to 4.3 million in 2019.

According to the 2019 population census, roughly 10 million people are living in informal settlements across Kenya with 2.4 million in Nairobi.

The report highlights that slums within Nairobi lack public services, good governance and electricity access.

“Inadequate and unreliable water supply and poor sanitation negatively impacted the ability of residents to regularly wash their hands," the report reads.

After the first Covid-19 case was reported in March last year, the government put in efforts to curb the spread.

They stationed various washing points across the slums and markets where consumers can observe hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water.

The research by Human Rights Watch was based on interviews with 136 people including 102 residents of 11 informal settlements out of which 82 were women.

It focused on Nairobi in part because it has the fastest growing number of informal settlements in the country.

The report focused primarily on Kibera, Mukuru, Korogocho, Mathare, Kangemi, Kawangware, Kariobangi, Dandora, Mugomoini, Kayole, Kayole Soweto and Waithaka in Nairobi.

It states that more than 60 per cent of businesses in informal settlements were closed during the partial lockdown, exposing thousands of families to serious economic hardships.

“High population density, lack of basic public services, poor electricity access and pre-exsiting high rates of unemployment exacerbated the impact of these measures on residents,”the report reads.

Partial lockdowns and curfews, were noted to be more challenging to adhere to in informal settlements and had harsher economic consequences.

Many residents told Human Rights Watch they could not afford to adhere to stay at home measures because they are dependent on casual day jobs.

Despite continuing to leave home to earn a living, residents attested to extreme economic hardship .

Many said they lost their jobs, earnings or were forced to shut down their businesses. They also struggled to make ends meet after they missed out on government supports.

“It was very tough for me during the lockdown. My laundry work stopped because people stopped giving us clothes to wash. They were afraid we would infect then with the virus,” 39-year-old mother from Kayaba said.

"At home, we would have just one meal a day and at some point, we started going without food,” she added.

In 2019, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) estimated unemployment rate at 7.27 per cent among youths aged 20-24 years .

The agency estimated that the formal sector only generates enough jobs to absorb around 20 per cent of young people newly entering the labour force. The remaining 80 per cent find work in the informal sector.

Most youth and other residents of informal settlements fall into the category of unemployed youth.

“I used to make around Sh200-Sh300 from washing clothes. During the pandemic, work became very difficult to come by,” 28-year-old mother of two from Kayole Soweto said.

(Edited by Bilha Makokha)