NAIROBI — Living in Mathare, one of the largest slums in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Newton Omondi knows that he needs to maintain social distancing, wear a face mask and wash his hands regularly to curb the spread of COVID-19.
However, adhering to these measures has been a challenge for Omondi since the outbreak of the disease in Kenya in March, due to the low income and congestion in the informal settlement, which hosts over 200,000 people.
“I believe most people here have not contracted the disease because of luck, but we don’t know for how long it will last,” he said.
This Saturday, June 20, marks World Refugee Day. To the relief of millions of urban poor and refugees in camps across Africa, more countries and organizations have stood firm with the African people and supported the continent’s response to the novel coronavirus. As United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in late May, “ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent stands at 267,519, and the death toll from the pandemic rose to 7,197 as of Thursday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In Uganda, local community transmission of the coronavirus disease is causing one of the worst impacts on the livelihood of the poor and refugees in the East African nation.
In April, UN agencies in Uganda issued a 316.4-million-U.S. dollar emergency appeal to respond to COVID-19 and its impact on the African country. The appeal focuses on health, food security and livelihood of refugees and the urban poor and aims to support the estimated 12.8 million most vulnerable people in the country.
In Kenya, the Dadaab refugee camps and dozens of slums across the country remain COVID-19 hot spots.
“The crowded conditions in the Dadaab refugee camps, where health services are already under pressure, raise serious concerns about the vulnerability of over 217,000 refugees and 320,000 host communities living in the camp and its surrounding areas,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency.
A similar situation is facing internally displaced refugees in Cameroon, where according to Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for Guterres, up to 450,000 are in need of food, better sanitation and health amid the COVID-19 threat.
Ana Maria Guzman, health coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Somalia, said maintaining social distance, sticking to hygiene rules, and staying healthy are huge challenges in the crowded displacement camps.
Guzman said in a statement there are concerns that many COVID-19 cases are “going undetected, especially in the internal displaced camps.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, is not the only problem poor people in Africa are grappling with. They are also facing equal threats from floods and locust infestations in various parts of the continent, which are leading to food scarcity.
Floods displaced about 810,000 people in Kenya between April and May, according to the Devolution Ministry, and in Somalia, UN agencies put the number at around 250,000.
Some 1.3 million people in the larger East Africa were affected by floods caused by heavy rain during the period, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted.
Guzman said that because of the ongoing conflict and floods in Somalia, there is an increase in the number of internally displaced populations into urban areas and this creates the perfect environment for infectious disease — not only COVID-19 but also acute watery diarrhea and measles.
What’s more, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) observed that the desert locust situation is particularly worrisome in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya, where the insects have deteriorated the food situation.
“A second generation of immature swarms has now started to form in northwest Kenya. Swarm formation will continue for about four weeks, while the bulk of them will form during the second half of June. From mid-June, an increasing number of swarms are expected to migrate northwards with the prevailing winds to Ethiopia and Sudan,” said the FAO in its latest update dated June 13.
The FAO warned that some 25.3 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda may face acute food insecurity.
CALL FOR SUPPORT
“Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative — now and for recovering better,” said Guterres in a video message for the launch of a policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on Africa in May.
“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings,” said Guterres.
During the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit in March, major economies reached a consensus that consolidating Africa’s health defense is key for the resilience of global health.
“We will strengthen capacity building and technical assistance, especially to at-risk communities. We stand ready to mobilize development and humanitarian financing,” according to a statement from the summit on COVID-19.
Together with the international community, China has been supporting the continent in tiding over the challenges. So far, China has sent much-needed supplies to more than 50 African countries and the African Union, dispatched medical experts to over 10 African countries, and shared its anti-epidemic experience with medical workers across the continent via video conferences.
At the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 on Wednesday, China also voiced support for Africa on the restarting of economic activities and people’s livelihood.
China promised to cancel the debt of relevant African countries in the form of interest-free government loans that are due to mature by the end of 2020 within the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, to work with the global community to give greater support to the hardest-hit African countries under heavy financial stress, and to support Africa’s efforts to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area, enhance connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains.
China’s commitments at the summit have helped breathe new life into Africa’s struggle with the pandemic, said Cavince Adhere, a Kenyan international relations researcher with a focus on China-Africa relations.