Low wage earners hard hit by coronavirus scourge

Thursday, April 16th, 2020 00:00 |

Neema Tuva, a mother of four, has been working at Ashton Apparel, a garment manufacturing company that exports its products to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) programme.

But since the cancellation of international flights in Kenya and the US, the factory has shut its doors leaving Tuva jobless.

On a good day, Tuva who lives in Bangladesh slum in Mombasa earns Sh500, which she says is enough only to feed her family. 

She has no medical insurance as she cannot raise the Sh500 needed for the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).

“Out of the money, I save for rent, food and school fees. If any other unforeseen thing happens in between, then it disrupts my budget a lot,” she says.

Coronavirus has disrupted Tuva’s life and she is living at the mercy of her landlord, as she has not paid Sh2,000 rent for the mud-walled house she lives in with her children.

According to the 2020 Budget Policy Statement, about 10 million Kenyans live in slums. Nairobi leads with 36 per cent, about 1.5 million, of its population living in slums.

Worldwide, over a billion people live in these settlements, which are overcrowded and lack adequate access to water and sanitation, according to the United Nations.

Survive spread

Dr Nichodemus Nyandiko, a disaster management lecturer at the Masinde Muliro University said poverty puts individuals in a precarious situation.

“Poverty leads to fewer choices– do you spend your money on food or medicine?  Poor planning has led to millions of people living in largely neglected overcrowded settlements.

Neema Tuva (left), a resident of Bangladesh slum in Mikindani area, Mombasa. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Their houses are built of waste materials, with little or no running water, electricity, garbage disposal or sanitation,” says Nyandiko.

“Social distancing is next to impossible when a settlement can have just 400 toilets for 20,000 people.

Even before any pandemic strikes, such places erode the health of residents, causing and worsening ailments that include respiratory diseases,” he adds.

Blatant disregard of orders on face masks and social distancing are among the challenges the Ministry of Health is facing in fighting the pandemic.

Despite the threat of infection, investigations reveal that illicit brew dens across the country are still operating, as most police officers are no longer arresting the culprits, with reports that some officers are visiting such dens only to collect bribes and protection fees.

The National Police Service (NPS) headquarters has, however, directed that all the dens be closed. 

Mombasa County commander Augustine Nthumbi on Monday said some of the notorious areas had been identified as areas adjacent to Likoni mainland, Kalahari in Changamwe, Bangladesh in Jomvu, Majaoni and Bomboi in Kisauni.

“In case of an outbreak in such areas, it will be a shared crisis, affecting everyone either directly or indirectly,” Police Spokesman Charles Owino said.

But Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) scientist Prof Matilu Mwau says the slum community in Kenya is likely to survive the spread of coronavirus because dwellers don’t share social and economic status with the middle and high-class citizens.

He said that since Covid-19 is an “imported disease”, those in the slums have little chances of contracting it.

He said these three classes of people live separately, and unless someone who is infected enters the slum, its inhabitants would be safe from the virus.

“Middle class and low status people live separately. It is the same in many cases with the high class and their counterparts, the middle level people.

The only interaction may be, if somebody comes from the low class to work as a cook, driver or security person for the two; the middle and high class,” he told People Daily.

His argument is based on the fact that coronavirus came through travelling abroad, and mainly, someone has to be middle class, to be able to travel. 

“Even those in low class who manage to boot their way into middle class, never go back to the slum. Not that easily,” he added. -Reporting by Barry Sila, James Magayi, Harrison Kivisu, Evelyn Makena, Roy Lumbe, George Kebaso and Zaddock Angira

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