Elizabeth Wayua, 31, a domestic worker arrives at her employer's house to start her chores in Pipeline, Embakasi, Nairobi, Kenya. 2016. Photo Credit: Allan Gichigi

Have we ignored the urban informal settlements?

Poverty is the primary cause of hunger in Africa. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are hungry/ undernourished. Further estimates indicate that 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, lives on $1.90 a day or less.

In Kenya, urban informal settlers know too well how to survive on one or no meal. With food security shocks that are as a result of factors such as low agricultural productivity, drought, and rapid population growth, hunger is slowly becoming the order of the day. It should not be the case! When it comes to matters food security, the rural areas have always been given the spotlight leaving most people oblivious to the urban centers need for similar support.

Informal settlements like Mathare are a host of many families that are languishing in poverty and are not able to put a meal on the table. Unemployment- another cause of poverty has left most youths dependent on their parents or guardians for their sustenance, a situation that is now deepening the food crisis in informal settlements. With the high levels of unemployment disintegrating families, young people with families are forced to take their children to their grandparents for care. This leaves grandparents with no choice but to provide for their unemployed children and further bear the load of parenting their grandchildren.

Hannah Njoki, 65, is one such grandmother carrying the load of providing for her four grandchildren (three girls and one boy) who were abandoned by their fathers - her two sons. Hannah’s sons separated from their wives because they were jobless and could not provide for their children. They later resorted to alcoholism and left their mother to bring up their children since they could not provide for them. The elderly grandmother is barely making ends meet and providing for her grandchildren is an uphill task for her.

Hannah has been out of employment since she was diagnosed with arthritis and high blood pressure. Arthritis has particularly affected her life as her movement is limited. As a result, she looks up to her neighbours for support like food and money which she uses to buy her medication.

The house she lives in is too small for her to be comfortable let alone have room for her grandchildren who have come to appreciate their grandmother for taking them in and somehow provide for them despite the challenges she faces. Her neighbours have been supportive but with the little they have, Hannah is on the brink of giving up hope.

It was not until a friend told Hannah about Tushinde organization that supports vulnerable families that are in dire need of support like Hannah. The organization has since taken Hannah into their support program but there is still more that needs to be done as their needs are many with no income.

It has not been easy for urban informal settlers to go through such challenging situations. Unlike rural areas where systems have been put up to indicate emergencies, urban centres also need systems for early detection of emergencies as those in rural areas may not necessarily work in urban areas. With the high food prices given little or no income, poor urban families continue to suffer from hunger and children malnourished if more support is not given to them.

Oxfam, Concern Worldwide, Kenya Red Cross through financial support the Start Network under the Urban Early Warning Early Action (UEWEA) intervention are working with the government and other stakeholders to set up indicator systems as long term measures that will enable the County Government of Nairobi to detect early warnings of emergencies in urban centres and therefore act early to avert these emergencies.