Photo Credit: Benson Guantai

Finding a Solution to Food Insecurity in the Urban Slums of Kenya

Urban informal settlements in Kenya host approximately 2.5 million slum dwellers representing 60% of the Nairobi population (report of the Nairobi Cross-sectional Slums Survey (NCSS) 2012. Nairobi: APHRC). The slums are characterized by poor infrastructure, crowded tin and wood shanties, poor sanitation facilities, overflowing sewerages, high rate of communicable diseases with most families unable to afford medical care. Health facilities are also limited, unequipped and understaffed.  Frequent gang attacks and muggings are the order of the day; this is as a result of lack of employment for the youth in the slums. Those who are not in crimes scavenge in dumpsites for plastic bottles and any valuables for sale or engage in transactional sex to make ends meet. With no land or means of growing their own food, slum residents are entirely reliant on markets for food but the skyrocketing costs of food have pushed an already desperate people into extreme poverty, rendering them incapable of feeding their families or paying for basic services such as healthcare, rent and school fees. The price of maize which is the basic staple food for the poorest, has increased by 133% over the past year forcing the government to intervene by introducing a subsidy programme of selling a 2kg maize flour at KES 90 to cushion consumers. The last time the 2kg packet sold close to KES 90 was 7 years ago and the price has been on an upward spiral since then.  All these factors have contributed a lot to food insecurity increasing the rates of malnutrition in children under the 5 years of age.

The Urban Early Warning Early Action project currently being implemented by a consortium of four non-governmental organizations - Kenya Red Cross Society, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam in Kenya and World Vision Kenya; is working towards developing early warning systems and early action responses to crises that affect the poor people living in urban slums. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) indicators are specific to rural areas hence cannot be used to monitor food insecurity in urban centres.[1] The project is piloting the use of indicators suited to the urban context and facilitating the set-up of and capacity-building of a coordinated urban early action mechanism within the Nairobi County Government; to respond timely to slow onset emergencies and mitigate their effects. This will be achieved through routine surveillance in the informal settlements in Kenya which will be fully coordinated and managed by the County Disaster Management Committee (CDMC) by the end of 2017.

So far the project has been able to develop and use Indicators sensitive to Urban Context. The findings from the first surveillance done in February indicated an outbreak of Cholera in the informal settlements which was successfully responded to in collaboration with the relevant county government departments. A tool kit was developed outlining the methodology to guide urban surveillance in Kenya and other countries; this is an operational guide for urban surveillance and outlines the methods, the indicators that can be monitored over time for early warning and early response. The consortium was able to influence a motion in local government that mandated the county executive to set up Surveillance and coordination centers. The county government is now formally engaged and has committed to carry-on with the surveillance and coordination mechanism with technical support from the consortium. The consortium will continue to advocate for UEWEA as a best practice and most cost effective model for responding to urban emergencies in the world.


[1] The IPC is a set of protocols for consolidating and summarizing Situation Analysis, a distinct, yet often overlooked (or assumed) stage of the food security analysis-response continuum.