Reihe: COVID-19

Fear for hunger not for COVID-19 in Kenya

by Rowan Alusiola

Alarmed by a potential rise in food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, many developing countries are unable to mount special efforts to keep agriculture safely running as an essential business and markets well supplied in affordable and nutritious food. They are incapable to ensure food security for their most vulnerable people. The situation has led to civil unrest in Kenya and it is feared that its magnitude might increase.

It seemed like a myth to me when I heard about COVID-19 for the very first time in January. So far away, it felt. In Kenya, the first COVID-19 case was announced in early March 2020. This news scared me. I was worried about my family and like everyone else, I was terrified about the most vulnerable people and especially the urban slum dwellers. Several political and economic leaders have called out on global response to COVID-19. Recently, WHO held its 73rd World Health Assembly and the delegates approved a historic resolution for the world to   fight the COVID-19 pandemic together.

Lock downs and curfews have been declared across Africa. Businesses have been closed without clear mitigation measures to assist the affected owners, workers and their families. The African Union has published guidance on community social distancing. The guidelines are, however, too general. There is not any discussion about the most vulnerable. For people who do not have the luxury of bank savings, social distancing and stay at home measures are a clear threat to their lifeline of daily income. Such measures might be highly ineffective, as people are more likely to disobey the law than staying at home and go hungry. This has led to civil unrest in most African countries including Kenya to which governments have responded with violence for not obeying curfews and other restrictions. Slums in Kenya are the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the prevention  measures that have been put in place.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), currently, some 820 million people around the world are experiencing chronic hunger. FAO is particularly concerned about the pandemic’s impacts on vulnerable communities which are grappling with hunger or other crises – including the Desert Locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa. Kenya is a country most affected by the Locust outbreak. FAO has given recommendations to governments on how to handle the crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering from acute hunger by the end of the year, this is according to new figures from the World Food Programme. Additionally, Global land scape forum has organised a digital conference on food in the time of crises with an aim of future mitigation measures towards food insecurity and pandemic. Despite these advisories and conferences, severe hunger is already being experienced in Africa and most especially Kenya.

Kibera, an informal settlement located in the heart of Nairobi, is estimated to have a density of about 90,000–100,000 inhabitants per km2. The settlement has limited public space. This increases social interaction. Most people are self-employed, employed in the informal sector or get work on a day by day basis. None of those work opportunities provide a regular income. Almost all households can be characterised as vulnerable and poor. This  situation is also the same in  Mathare slum. The World Health Organization recommended preventive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, those measures are often almost impossible to implement in this environment.

COVID-19 has made life more agonising for the Kibera slum dwellers who depend on a daily income. Most of them have skipped a meal or have eaten less in the past weeks because they did not have enough money to buy food. Spotting food distribution, dwellers tried to force their way through a gate outside a district office for a chance to grab the supplies to keep their families fed for another day. The incident left many people injured and hospitalised.   This reflects the dire situation that exists not just in Kibera but also other slums in Kenya as the resident’s surge for food aid.

Although the Constitution of the Republic of Kenya explicitly guarantees the right to adequate food for its citizens, no aid has yet been granted. It is unethical and distressing to keep vulnerable people in lockdown without having their basic needs covered. To help the urban poor the Kenyan government should prioritize providing basic needs, including fresh water and food. There is need to partner with existing community leadership and non-governmental organisations to form emergency planning committees in charting the appropriate response to the pandemic. Youth groups and other local existing groups could form a social media network for food and fund-raising activities. Finally, the Kenyan government should mobilize resources to expand their social safety nets, specifically to ease the effect on the most vulnerable population in urban areas who are living from hand-to- mouth. These measures will aid in not only ensuring that  people have sufficient and healthy food but also as an opportunity for the people to take the pandemic seriously and put into practice the measures that have been given out by the government.

Rowan Alumasa Alusiuolais is an Environmental Specialist with virtually 10 years of practical work experience in developing, managing and monitoring projects and policies within the East Africa Region. Her proficiency is in areas related to environmental conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, food security and community engagement. She has worked with several organizations including: CARE International in Kenya, World Vision, Tetra Tech and UNEP. She is an Alexander Von Humboldt Fellow for International Climate  Protection  for  the year 2020/ 2021 at Peace Academy. Her research focuses on the potential of REDD+ on conflict creation  in Kenya and minimising it while contributing to sustainable development at local level.

35 Gedanken zu „Fear for hunger not for COVID-19 in Kenya“

  1. This is a masterpiece by Rowan. The plight of Covid-19 is far reaching socially and economically. I wish to underscore and iterate your statement herein this article “Its indeed unethical and distressing to keep vulnerable people in lockdown and curfews without having their basic needs covered” The govt should do more for not just Kenyans but all over the world countries should look into this with seriousness to keep its people safe and provide sufficient food security. We have also had unfathomable labor loss and job insecurity in addition to economic crisis.
    Keep the good work rowan in highlighting the plight of covid-19

  2. This is a good article Rowan highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on food security. The Kenyan government has tried to put up measures to mitigate adverse effects of the pandemic in terms of access to food items by reducing Value Added Tax(VAT) from 16%-14%. The Pay As You Earn(PAYE) tax was equally reduced from a maximum of 30% to 25%, I believe this is a good gesture to address access to food together with the development of a covid-19 response team. This period has also witnessed high demand for food due to curfews and lock-downs and it is our hope that prices shall remain stable to enable affordability. Most recently also the government has put up measures to facilitate cash transfers to vulnerable households through M-pesa and this should be managed well so as to reach deserving Kenyans.

  3. Well penned Rowan. Its true the Kenyan Government was ill prepared despite the advance warnings. Unfortunately it’s the struggling lot who bare the brunt of burden. Locust invasions, lock-downs coupled with tensions at the borders with neighboring countries have not made it any easier. Malnutrition diseases, Mental depressions, and crime related cases are going be on the rise.

  4. Very well articulated. This pandemic has exposed not only how fragile our economy is but also how ill-prepared the government is to support the vulnerable population when need arises.

  5. good piece. indeed, the have-nots are more concerned about putting the next meal on the table and not about some “virus they have no idea about”. but food security issues and hunger have been a thorny issue for most people in the developing world. we just have not found a way around it though we have the resources in abundance to more than feed the needy. the pandemic just exacerbated the problem.

  6. good piece. indeed, the have-nots are more concerned about putting the next meal on the table and not about some “virus they have no idea about”. but food security issues and hunger have been a thorny issue for most people in the developing world. we just have not found a way around it though resources are in abundance to more than feed the needy. the pandemic just exacerbated the problem. the current pandemic is more than a call to action!

  7. Spot on. The government needs to get its act together and know well its priorities. You cannot be fighting a disease on one side, but let people go hungry on the other one. It is an effort in futility. I have not seen a deliberate and organized effort by the government to assist those in need with supplies. What I have seen is some politicians taking advantage of the situation to supply branded hand outs. If basic commodities such as water, which is at the core of fighting covid-19 is lacking in some areas, how can one take the government to be serious? Not mentioning the April/May floods. The government needs to be serious if it has to be taken seriously.

  8. Well articulated our fears despite having some good land for cultivation food security has been a major challenge compounded with the menace of locust and now the floods. Curfew and lockdown has made situation from bad to worse.
    It is also important to note from the past there are usually committee with lots of red tape bureaucracy and most of the available funds end up in the planning process than the intended purpose. At the same time it may reach at time having moved from bad to worse.

  9. Clear RED FLAG raised in this piece!
    When people have to choose between disobedience to guidance (staying at home, use of face masks, regular handwashing, sanitizers) and access to basic needs, it is easy to see how that goes. For the multitudes in slum areas who MUST work daily for food cannot therefore prioritize masks, sanitizers and frequent handwashing (if they can’t access safe drinking water) to begin with.
    The Kenyan government must wake up to such realities and mitigate them, for the Covid-19 curve is to be flattened.

  10. Interesting article @Rowan. A focus of an African eye and a good angle with a global tilt. The post covid 2019 might bring new era of understanding things, change ways of investing efforts for population welfare. I wish you a good stay and success to your envisaged projects.

  11. Wooow @Rowan. very nice article and analysis, a real face of an African living in Africa. I wish you all the best and good stay in a research domain. It is a good start and focus to handle social conflicts cause, effects and impacts

  12. Great scholarly work
    Food security and agriculture inkenya are also detached, detachment that also includes agribusiness that is supposed to hype value addition for enhanced food security.
    Waistage is real hence at a time of such a pandemic hunger … Mostly nutritional hunger meds attention

  13. Nice ,i have read through and it is very impressive.
    In line with your profession,is it timely to also mention the floods that are ravaging the country,which are not treated as urgent as covid.
    Otherwise nice hearing from you

  14. Yes, I agree, Kenya just like other low income economies in Africa still has high levels of vulnerability & exposure to shocks. The preparedness is still wanting and especially in complex disasters like this, the stimulus package is just a drop in the ocean and cannot realize the achievement of standard indicators for food & nutrition security. With multiple shocks of Covid, floods, locusts, conflict in some pockets and poverty (which is a big animal) we require more which may take a while and should take a multisectoral, multi stakeholders approach. For now though short term remedies should be in place.

  15. Very well articulated and captured. It gives a true picture of our fears as Kenyans. I am personally worried that Kenyans will prematurely go back to the normal life disregarding the COVID-19 regulations because we live from hand to mouth. We need to work on a daily basis to feed our families. Our living conditions especially those living in informal settlements are at a higher risk.

  16. The unprecedented negative situation presented by Covid-19 is not only to the health systems but to a greater extent to the food systems. Access to daily wage earning opportunities is big challenge due to the curfews and lock downs currently imposed. The urban poor is at a greater disadvantage and the intervention measures you have proposed if adopted can greatly improve their outcome on food security.

  17. This is indeed true on current situations in Kenya. I do feel for those slum dwellers. A day break means a fight for food on the table.

  18. Thanks for making time to put scholarly weight on food security matters and bringing out a 3D view on matters beyond the already devastating Pandemic Covid 19 first in Kenya then the world at large.
    I have always desired to be part of a project team that will deliver critical services like food security for our country. I agree with you Ms.Rowan that we do have enough indicators for an upcoming biblical magnitude famine and as a professional project planner and manager i desire to see a competent task force/scrum team to lead in this action od disaster preparedness. We must start now.

  19. Well articulated. Furthermore, the urban poor face day to day police brutality especially during the Corona virus induced Curfew.
    Men and women are assaulted and robbed of cash if they encounter Police after curfew hours. This could be anywhere from afew minutes after 7pm. This only worsens the Poor’s vulnerability to hunger.
    The poor in areas like Kariobangi area were recently evicted from their shanties apparently to pave way for expansion of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city’s sewerage system. These now have to not only contend with being hungry with no food but also being homeless.
    Little government efforts to provide a stipend to the urban poor is mired in corruption and tribalism where those in charge of distribution of food and money end up benefitting from the resources meant for the poor.
    There is need for a well coordinated effort comprising of a database detailing needs and interventions for the urban poor by the national and county governments and various stakeholders including the community groups and development partners.
    Kenyans in informal settlement are hardworking and ingenious lot who only need support to better their lives.

  20. A great masterpiece on the current state of things in Africa and in particular Kenya. vividly explained. May help come soonest to evacuate lives.

  21. A very touching article! As much as curfews and partial lockdowns in Africa are curbing the spread of COVID 19 , hunger is becoming a threat! Governments should step up in providing relief food to every needy household.

  22. This is an absolutely true situation especially here in Kenya.More measures need to be put in place to cushion the common man especially in the informal settlements.

    1. Thanks Rowan for the insightful masterpiece, which is also a true reflection of the situation on the ground.
      Unless good measures are put in place to mitigate against hunger in slum areas, it will be difficult for the government to achieve its objective of flattening the curve for the Covid 19 in those areas.
      Many have insisted that they cannot wash hands yet there is no food placed on the table. Otherwise people will still go out of their way to put food on the table, disregarding all the measures that have been put in place to combat the pandemic.

  23. Very interesting I have read it I liken the fact that are able to relate issues of food security as major challenge in the fight against fight Covid19…The effort made by Africa Nations is however good given the level of poverty in this developing countries …Very nice

  24. Great piece Rowan. The Kenyan government setup a national COVID-19 relief fund committee to coordinate collections and distribution but execution is still a problem. Most politicians still want to do it themselves for their own self gain and political mileage led by none other than the country’s Deputy President. We still have a long way to go.

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