COVID-19 Mathare Slums Nairobi, Kenya

COVID-19 in the Mathare Slums

Imagine practicing social distancing in a city of 500,000 people crammed into an area of just 7.25 km2.  At 68,941 people per km2 the Mathare[1] slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is over six times as densely populated as City of New York, the current epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slowing the transmission of the virus through hand washing and self-isolation in such a densely populated place is hard enough. It becomes almost impossible, factoring in all the challenges slum residents face. These include lack of access to piped potable water or sewers, affordable and safe housing, and hand-to-mouth poverty necessitating a daily work commute and the complete absence of basic health care facilities.

Given the explosive growth of infections and mortality in dense urban centres of the developed world like New York, the international community needs to do all it can to slow the coming wave of COVID-19 infections coming to the slums and informal settlements of the cities in the developing world.

Youth on the front line

Mathare Youth Environmental Conservation Group (MYECG) is one of the most innovative and dynamic youth groups in Kenya. Over the past decade it has transformed a garbage dump into a youth centre and a sports fields from abandoned land. Thousands of slum residents people benefit from MYECG’s garbage collection and feeding programs; these programs are all self-initiated by young women and men who saw a need.

Now these young people are trying to do what they can to fight the pandemic, by setting up services that protect the community from the COVID-19 scourge; services such as free hand washing stations, access to COVID-19 prevention and health information in their local language, and equally important, a sense that they can do something to protect themselves and their families.

However they can’t sustain the effort without outside assistance – your support.

Reinforcing the social infrastructure

UN-Habitat has been working with MYEGC for over a decade, most recently officially accrediting Mathare Youth Centre a UN-Habitat “One Stop” Youth Centre”.

Recognizing and enhancing “informal” urban infrastructure can be important, especially in times of crisis, when pre-built physical as well as social infrastructure is needed for rapid response. For example a youth centre that is used to organize football tournaments and garbage collection, has also built the social networks and goodwill to mobilize youth volunteers, be a trusted source of information, and provides emergency services when a crisis hits such as a pandemic.

Partners: Urgently needed

In response to the threat of COVID-19, the Mathare One Stop has enlisted the financial assistance of its long-time partner UN-Habitat, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, the Embassy of Norway, and philanthropist Manu Chandaria. Financial management of all funds is being handled by the Water is Right Foundation, headed by UN-Habitat Messenger of Truth, pop singer and philanthropist, Mr. Rolf Stahlhofen.

Current programme for Mathare

Utilizing the Mathare One Stop as a trusted service and logistics based, the COVID-19 response entails:

  • The establishment of 15 free public hand washing stations within the Mathare slum, which will operate 14 hours a day, every day, until the pandemic subsides.
  • “Youth public health assistants” from within the One Stop youth centre network who are trained on the latest public health information and COVID-19 mitigation strategies, trainings which will be held every month to ensure information is up to date
  • Dissemination of public health information

This initial targeting population is 75000 with public health information, with up to 400,000 hand washes being done over a projected 5 month period.

Specific funding needs

In the coming months we urgently need the following to support our work:

  • 5000 USD to expand training for the public health assistants
  • 20000 USD for stipends for youth public health assistants
  • 7500 USD to ramp up field administrative capacity
  • 25000 USD for emergency food or assistance for those quarantined
  • 7500 USD for personal protective equipment
  • 5000 USD for public health information materials
  • 20000 USD to distribute water and soap

Youth Centres and Sanitation: A Positive legacy?

Slums are over 60% inhabited by youth under the age of 30. These young people are often not recognized for the critical work they do such as garbage collection and water distribution.

When these young people build groups, garbage pickup, toilets, water delivery, and youth centres for the community are created – services which ought to be recognized, supported and replicated.

UN-Habitat is calling on the international community to support the youth response to this current crisis with the long term goal of engaging and employing youth to rebuild and reinvigorate their communities through the establishment of 10 new One Stop centres in the slums and informal settlement which can act as safe and generative spaces for young men and women. The One Stops can act as training centres in the area of water and sanitation and public health,  a strong and enduring legacy of the COVID-19 response.

Fotos: Copyright by UN-HABITAT
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