My team here in Kenya and our colleagues around the world bear witness every day to the fragility of subsistence living. This pandemic has substantially magnified that fragility.
Last year, 135 million people relied on emergency food aid for survival. The UN has predicted that this figure will almost double in 2020 as a result of the cascading effects of COVID-19. That’s 265 million people living on the edge.
You may have heard of Kibera. It’s known for being the largest urban slum in Africa — a vibrant, diverse, and constantly evolving home to over 250,000 people. It just so happens that many of them are extremely poor.
“We can only eat when I have worked”
Like so many Kibera residents, Margret Wanjiru is originally from the countryside, her family having migrated to Nairobi when she was just 3 years old. Now 33, Margret is a single mother of two — Kamau and his baby sister Charlyne, who was born a few short months before COVID-19 emerged. Margret’s partner left when she became pregnant and does not give her any support. She had earned her living by running a laundry service, but the coronavirus has impacted her hard.
“I am not working. I wait for someone to call me to do laundry, but nobody has called because of the pandemic. Maybe I work once a week. We can only eat when I have worked.”
The family share a small one-room shanty dwelling with a friend. The roof leaks, Margaret can no longer afford electricity, and she’s worried that she will be evicted because she cannot pay the rent. There is no toilet.
“They say she is an angel”
Now, Margret has had to resort to walking the streets of Kibera with Charlyne, begging for money. “Sometimes somebody will buy me cheap food. The neighbors will give my baby some food — they say she is an angel.”
Earlier this year, little Charlyne became very weak and was referred to a Concern clinic, where she was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. After months of treatment, she has regained weight and is becoming stronger. It was a close call.
Margret’s story is one we have seen replicated in hundreds of communities across the world, from the villages of South Sudan to the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Haiti. Closed borders, rolling lockdowns, restricted markets, and high food prices are all consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that are pushing those who live on the poverty line closer and closer to their limit.
For Margret, there is a glimmer of hope. She is due to receive cash transfers that will help her buy food and retain the family home. It’s not much, but for now it’s enough to help her protect her young family as they try to ride out the storm.