By Patrick Edema
The government of Uganda has opted a range of strategies to manage the spread of COVID-19. However, as desirable as the strategies may seem, the urban poor are disproportionately negatively affected and the people in slums are a case of point.
The president of Uganda introduced a food relief package to cushion the effects of lockdown especially in the districts of Kampala and Wakiso but the distribution of the relief package has been hampered by governance challenges.
The situation, to a large extent, reflects the opposite of good governance. Good governance is about relationships and interactions between citizens and government based on the principles of equity, efficient service delivery and sustainability.
This points to a larger problem that’s been highlighted by the impact of the COVID-19 interventions, disconnect between urban development policies, housing, slums and the livelihood realities of the majority. The government must see this pandemic as an opportunity to address this disconnect.
In particular, it needs to develop inclusive action plans aimed at building the capacity of poor people to accumulate livelihood assets known as asset accumulation that they can draw on to cope with future shocks. This will involve urban development policies supporting the initiatives of the urban poor to accumulate assets and in turn, reduce dependence on palliative measures.
It will require the government to change its approaches of neglect, demolition and forced eviction of slums to participatory slum upgrading and urban regeneration. This will also help stimulate economic growth after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A significant number of people who live in Kampala slums are poor and are accommodated in slums. Their lives are precarious. Housing conditions are poor and there’s overcrowding and a lack of basic services. For example, about 70% of the residents in Kampala live in one room with more than five people. An average of five households share toilet and bathroom facilities with no running water.
Therefore, to cope with shocks, a combination of assets is required. They include social networks and physical and financial assets. All are required to adequately meet basic needs and cope with shocks. The reality, however, is that majority of the slum residents in Uganda have a limited ability to accumulate a portfolio of assets to fall back on.
The financial assets such as earnings, savings, investment returns and credits are essential for daily living and for accessing adequate housing, sanitation facilities and food. A typical slum resident lives on an irregular income and limited capacity to save for future needs. Saving can only be a dream for someone earning an inadequate and irregular daily income. In the absence of adequate income, the urban poor turn to social networks for social security in terms of food, finance and credit. These sources, particularly from friends and relatives, have become more unreliable during the pandemic.
During these hard times of COVID-19, it’s therefore very important for the government to plan for its vulnerable people living in the slums especially in the three districts of Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono respectively.
It is very difficult for a person to feed on less than ten kilograms of posho and beans for more than three months yet such people have families to take care of. This is the time that the government has to be there for its people in the most affected districts because people are going to die of hunger from the coronavirus implications.
Patrick Edema, the writer is a community rights defenders at AFIEGO
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