Kenya’s poor need different lockdown restrictions in order to survive, scientists claim

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Joseph Lowasa Baraka at his vegetable and fruit kiosk in Nairobi. During the coronavirus lockdown in Kenya, traders chose to stay out of congested markets and prioritized safer digital platforms. Photo credit: Isaiah Esipisu / IPS

NAIROBI, April 19, 2021 (IPS) – After losing his job because of the country’s coronavirus lockdown, Joseph Mandu still woke up every morning and left his home in the City Carton slum in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. But instead of going to the restaurant where he worked as a pool attendant, he went around City Carton looking for odd jobs to earn an income so he could pay for the food his family needed to survive.

“I was trying to find something because my wife couldn’t understand that I wasn’t able to provide for the family at all.

“Since schools were closed, all of our five children were in our single room and needed food, water – which can only be bought – and soap that were beyond my affordability, among other things,” Mandu told IPS, noting that he did owed his landlord Sh2000 ($ 18) monthly rent.

Mandu is not alone in caring for his family.

Blanket measures imposed by the Kenyan government to contain the coronavirus pandemic have denied poor slum dwellers access to sufficient nutritious food and livelihoods. This emerges from early results of an ongoing evidence-based study examining the effects of COVID-19 on the eating habits of households in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

The study found that urban slums and non-slum households were affected differently by the COVID-19 pandemic. Differentiated strategies and solutions are therefore required to improve the food security, nutrition and livelihood of these two consumer groups.

The researchers, led by scientists from the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is now calling on the Kenyan government to consider the unique challenges people face in urban slums before taking blanket measures to curb the spread of the disease.

“Through this study, we saw that about 90 percent of households in the slums reported severe food insecurity and were unable to eat their preferred types of food, such as local vegetables and animal foods such as milk and eggs before the pandemic, more affordable and accessible, ”said Dr. Christine Chege, the lead researcher on the project, told IPS. The alliance offers research-based solutions on the use of biodiversity in agriculture and the sustainable transformation of food systems to improve people’s lives in a climate crisis.

The study found that more than 40 percent of slum households were unemployed and their median monthly household income was $ 78.

  • Scientists collected primary data from 2,465 households in the slums of Kibera and Mathare as well as from middle-income residents in the city of Nairobi.
  • The values ​​for the nutritional diversity of households were calculated on the basis of 7-day food consumption recalls.

The city carton slum in Nairobi, Kenya.  An ongoing study by scientists from Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) found that more than 40 percent of slum households are unemployed and their average monthly household income is $ 78.  Photo credit: Isaiah Esipisu / IPS

The city carton slum in Nairobi, Kenya. An ongoing study by scientists from Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) found that more than 40 percent of slum households are unemployed and their average monthly household income is $ 78. Photo credit: Isaiah Esipisu / IPS

So far, the government has turned to measures such as curfews, social distancing and closings of restaurants, bars and churches to curb the spread of the virus. To date, April 19th, Kenya has reported over 151,000 COVID-19 cases.

However, current measures to contain the spread of the virus have had a direct negative impact on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of urban slum dwellers across the country.

In general, slum dwellers live in overcrowded one-room apartments in which several households share bathrooms, sinks and water points. There is little or no space for children to play and social distancing is impossible.

They also don’t have personal transportation and so many have to use overcrowded public transportation, including the use of motorcycles, which can sometimes carry up to three passengers on a single bike.

Disinfectants remain a luxury for these communities. And some people use a disposable mask for more than a week – not to protect against COVID-19 infection, but to avoid the wrath of law enforcement, who reportedly use them as an excuse to distort money, especially from the poor.

A respondent from the Kibera slum told researchers that she had received antiretroviral therapy for HIV but was unable to eat a balanced diet as recommended by her doctor.

These are just some of the reasons why slum dwellers need sophisticated containment measures that do not completely deny them access to food and livelihoods, according to the study.

While The results show that non-slum households can benefit from falling or capping rising food prices to improve their food security and nutrition. For slum dwellers, the solution is different and possibly more complicated.

Instead, the researchers recommend strategies and interventions to help slum dwellers earn an income as a solution, first giving them economic opportunities to gain access to nutritious food.

“Once they are economically strengthened, a second intervention would be to lower food prices,” said Chege.

According to Joram Kabach of Twiga Foods, a company that currently supplies fresh fruit and vegetables from over 20,800 farmers in this East African country directly to more than 30,000 small suppliers via mobile technology, the government must work with the private sector to bridge the gap between the sector Food and nutrition security for slum dwellers and containment measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, we saw our daily sales surge from Sh 13 million ($ 18,200) to Sh 35 million ($ 318,200),” said Kabach.

“This means that, in line with government social distancing guidelines, merchants have chosen to stay out of congested markets and prioritize safer digital platforms that place orders on cell phones and products that are on the doorstep with greatly reduced human interactions be delivered, “he told IPS.

In that regard, he noted that the government could cushion slum dwellers by offering them food vouchers that can be redeemed by structured vendors belonging to structured platforms like Twiga Foods. The company is also participating in the ongoing study.

Chege said she hoped the research would Influence the design and implementation of policies to include vulnerable poor consumers in the slums.

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