Rising To The Pandemic’s Challenges In Africa’s Informal Settlements

People washing their clothes along the roadside in front of an informal settlement in Johannesburg, South Africa.

For the estimated 60% of urban dwellers in Africa who live in low-income informal settlements, living conditions mean limited access to basic water and sanitation, overcrowded low quality housing, and risk to environmental, health, and natural hazards. At the same time, African cities provide employment opportunities and a hope for a better future for informal settlements residents. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis has made living conditions in informal settlements more difficult. The lock-down restrictions and the economic crisis have evaporated job opportunities for many. The global economy is being hit by the deepest recession in 80 years despite massive stimulus measures.   

The often chaotic density of informal settlements and lack of basic services does not allow for social distancing or frequent handwashing. Missing a day’s work can mean not being able to feed one’s family.  Disruption to food supply chains and spikes in food prices add to the crisis. COVID-19 has thus far not yet reached worse case predictions for Africa but could peak later this year. When it does, African cities will be at the epicenter of this pandemic. They must be supported to play their leadership role in the solution. 

Local governments and communities are innovating in the middle of the crisis. Our weekly monitoring of COVID-19 responses in low-income communities illustrates the creativity of empowered cities and communities. Some examples of quick response include the installation of handwashing stations in high traffic public spaces such as bus stations and markets stations in cities in Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere. Read more…

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