UN-Habitat initiates measures on Covid-19 response in Kenya’s two refugee settlements

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Kalobeyei, Kenya 6 April 2020—Although no case of Covid-19 has been reported in the settlements of Kalobeyei and Kakuma in northern Kenya, UN-Habitat has instituted several preventive and preparedness actions to protect the refugees and host communities.

In the two refugee camps, the newly instituted actions by UN-Habitat are in line with the recently published Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, where the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Gutteres, said “the world faces a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations”. Around the world, developed countries with extensive healthcare systems and resources are struggling to respond and contain the spread of the pandemic. There are grave concerns over the potential impact of Covid-19 in less developed countries, and its effect on vulnerable populations all over the world. These include displaced populations, refugees and hosts that depend heavily on humanitarian operations.

In response, international humanitarian and health organisations have released guidance and recommendations - WHO has published a “Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to COVID-19", with health practise guidelines, and emphasizing the importance of multi-sectoral partnerships. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has released the “Interim Guidance Scaling-up COVID-19 Outbreak Readiness and Response Operations in Humanitarian Situations”. Various UN agencies are adapting existing activities into the new reality, factoring the pandemic into their programming.

UN-Habitat has several active programmes within the country, one of which is the long-term collaboration with Turkana County Government and UNHCR, as part of the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Programme (KISEDP). UN-Habitat has supported KISEDP and the piloting of a sustainable settlement for both host and refugees over the last years. Kenya has reported its first 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, although there are yet to be any reported cases in Kakuma-Kalobeyei. Preventative and preparedness actions are already being taken to protect the refugees and host communities.

Some of the key considerations specific to the region include the following:

  • Access to healthcare and building awareness: Both refugee and host communities are provided access to healthcare facilities in both Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement. To encourage safe and informed access, adaptation of service delivery sites to reduce chances of transmission and the sensitisation of communities on COVID-19 safe practices, such as handwashing and social distancing should be implemented.

  • Safe and informed access to necessities and livelihoods: For refugee and host communities, a disruption to their access to necessities and food supply chains would be detrimental, as these communities’ lack food security and food-based safety nets. In addition, continued access to an income is critical to sustain their livelihoods. Economic decline, poverty and food security often accompany one another. Both communities must continue to access marketplaces and resource distribution centres such as food aid and water, but in a safe and informed manner.

  • Community mobility & movement: In Kakuma-Kalobeyei, refugees and hosts live amongst and move between settlements and interact with one another. The nomadic nature of the local pastoralist communities also contributes to the dynamic circulation patterns of people in the region. To prevent the potential of rapid transmission of COVID-19 between people, greater awareness building and knowledge surrounding the spread of the virus should be implemented.

  • Engagement of the host community and community groups: Due to the unique and mutually dependent relationships between host and refugee communities in Kakuma-Kalobeyei, the engagement of both communities in any COVID-19 response is crucial. The engagement should extend as well to numerous other communities - pastoralist communities in the region face unique vulnerabilities as they are often less integrated into the urban structure, which can reduce their access to healthcare and information on COVID-19.

With the initial response measures led by national and local governments, humanitarian organisations and partners, UN-Habitat will continue to complement these efforts through our expertise in spatial urban function, and strategies for mobility and circulation. This is funded by Swiss Development Collaboration (SDC) through City Alliance, EU Trust Fund, and the Government of Japan, and will be built on our existing work on the humanitarian-development nexus, which involves bridging short-term emergency work to long-term development efforts.