Shreds of Hope
In the heart of the Kibera informal settlement, a one roomed window-less house is home to four adults and three children. Three of the adults recently migrated from Makueni district in the eastern part of Kenya to their relatives’ house in Kibera to escape the hard and biting drought that saw them endure many long days without meals. However, life in the city is just as bleak as in the rural areas, with thousands just like them scrambling unsuccessfully for jobs in Nairobi’s industrial area.
Still, they thank their lucky stars that they have a place to lay their heads and sleep, despite shared beddings and the floor for a bed. But like in every city in the world, they cannot just sit at home and expect their relatives to provide for them – times are hard and the future uncertain. And with a families back in the rural areas expecting support, these ‘drought escapees’ have to hassle to earn their daily bread. Their struggles are compounded by the ever rising food and kerosene prices in the city and they have no surety of finding any form of employment in a city characterised by high unemployment rates even for the well educated.
A typical day for them starts at 5:00 am when they get up and prepare to go and look for work. Whereas you and I can decide whether to have our eggs easy or sunny side up, their breakfast is not guaranteed. It is a luxury they cannot afford, many times starting their walk to search for work on an empty stomach and returning home at the end of a futile day with empty pockets. The average daily wage for a casual worker in Kenya is 200 Kenya Shillings or 2 ½ dollars shared across a household of seven.
Faced with declining incomes and rising prices of essential food and non food items, surveys have found reduced intake of meals. According to a KEMRI/CDC nutrition survey in two villages in the Kibera slum, 90% of the urban slum households were reducing meal frequency and quantities.
In the evening, the family shares whatever food they manage to put together usually maize meal served with green vegetables in small portions to quell their hunger pangs albeit for a little while. With school holidays here, feeding the three children in that home has posed an enormous problem as they now cannot access the school feeding programmes where they were guaranteed a hot meal.
One of the members of the household looks tired and weak, having recently recovered from a recurrent bout of tuberculosis. In addition, she is a lactating mother of a two month old baby and yes…. all living under the same roof!
According to Peter Njuguna, a community health worker attached to AMREF’s Kibera Health Facility, “This family is one of many that is hosting relatives who joined them from the rural areas in the promise of a meal and a better life, greatly swelling the numbers that organisations working in Kibera such as AMREF have to support with health services and food.”
AMREF is working towards beefing up support for these families and collaborating with other agencies to provide food supplementation, consisting of fortified flour and food baskets. In addition, this family will be followed up with HIV counselling and testing for the mother and baby and if necessary, enrolled into AMREF’s Pepfar funded Anti Retroviral Therapy Programme .
Although there is a lack of disaggregated and long term data on the food security, livelihoods, nutrition and public health situations of residents of these informal settlements, not only in Nairobi but in Kenya as a whole, the above review presents compelling evidence that an emergency food security crisis is occurring within the extreme chronic poverty of the urban slums of Nairobi and requires an immediate response. Slum residents are highly dependent on the market for food, within an back-drop of price spikes in essential food and non food items, falling incomes, and likely increasing malnutrition (A compilation and synthesis of key food security, livelihood, nutrition and public health data (Oxfam GB, Concern Worldwide & CARE International in Kenya, 2009)