The Triple Humanitarian Crisis and Why Kenya Deserves An A + in its Response

The triple humanitarian crisis. Photo Credits from left and in
clockwise direction-UN Habitat, Kenya Red Cross and FAO Kenya.

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 1 2020 (IPS)

The United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Ms Amina Mohammed
recently commended “Kenya’s
exemplary role in its response to COVID-19 and in advancing Agenda
2030
”.

On Monday, 28 September 2020, the President of Kenya, Uhuru
Kenyatta hosted a national conference on COVID 19. I was invited to
speak about Kenya’s response, and without equivocation I restate
what I said–Kenya deserves an A + rating.

Here’s why!

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Asia, Europe and the US,
experts began to worry about what it would do to poor countries,
with predictions of thousands of deaths, serious infections as well
as the near-total collapse of already ailing health systems.

How would Africa, characterised by crowded living conditions,
widespread poverty and a lack of basic hygienic facilities deal
with such a devastating and largely unknown pathogen? Months later,
such horror scenarios have not materialised and the question has
changed to why most of Africa is seeing comparably less
devastation.

As explained by President Uhuru Kenyatta during the National
Covid-19 Conference, “the reason why we have managed to flatten
the curve is because Kenyans have exercised an impressive civic
responsibility and duty.”

A reality that tends to be lost in all the discussions about
this novel coronavirus in Kenya is just how much pummelling the
country’s social and economic structures have received
lately.

2020 was a particularly difficult year for Kenya. A triple
crisis, coming on the heels of a protracted period of droughts, a
cholera epidemic and not to underestimate the spectre of
cross-border terror attacks, which dented one of Kenya’s biggest
foreign exchange earners-tourism.

Consider this. In 2017, nearly half the counties of Kenya was
reeling from the effects of probably the worst drought in the last
20 years
. With nearly 3.4 million people food insecure,
Kenya’s food security prognosis looked gloomy, with climate
change and natural resource depletion set to pose even greater
risks in the long term.

Often unnoticed is the insidious effect on the country’s
economy, with experts estimating that there have been, “12
serious droughts since 1990”. The average annual costs of the
damage caused estimated at around KHS 125 billion ($1.25 billion)
— with each drought reducing the country’s
Gross Domestic Product by an average of 3.3 percent
.

The two consecutive national elections in 2017 also took a
massive financial toll.

Given the dire financial situation, it is quite remarkable, the
resilience, tenacity and optimism, Kenya has displayed in the face
of such adversity, and done so with their head held high, with
stoicism and compassion in its fight against the triple threat.

Since the beginning of the year, Kenya has gone through a series
of unprecedented crises, where within six months it has experienced
the worst desert locust invasion in 70 years, heavy unusual
flooding that has left scores of people dead and thousands
displaced, and the pandemic that is taking a toll on health
services and the economy.

Aware of the technological and financial handicaps facing the
health sector, the government has responded commendably in leading
the fight against COVID-19, from mandating physical distancing and
wearing of masks, promoting hand and respiratory hygiene, promptly
dealing with rumours, to specialised facilities in hospitals, to
working with industry to deliver local equipment such as PPEs, to
delivering economic relief to impacted families. And above all not
allowing politics to hijack the wisdom of science.

In about six months after the first case was reported, Kenya
increased the number of infectious diseases isolation beds from
eight to just over 7,000 across the country, thus keeping the
casualty rates low. This was a remarkable feat achieved through
unity of purpose between the national and county governments.

The government rolled out moderate stimulus packages to help
families ride out the economic turbulence and cushion companies
from financial shocks. The Treasury instituted tax relief for
low-income earners and reduced VAT rates as well as corporate sales
tax for businesses. In a country already facing slow GDP growth,
these were commendable actions of national self-sacrifice and
coming together in times of crises.

When you look at some of the most developed countries in the
world, buckling to the microscopic and highly virulent coronavirus
and their national responses are properly examined, Kenya does
score an ‘A+’ in how quickly and decisively the government
acted in the COVID-19 crisis. Measures such as travel restrictions,
curfews and school closures were implemented early in the country,
before the number of infections rose.

As testament to the spirit of coming together to confront a
common adversary, there was broad support from the public for these
measures. In social media and elsewhere, citizens were quick to
express responsible outrage where they felt those responsible for
the response at various levels were not keeping to the expected
standards.

This grit and determination to rise to the occasion even where
resources are hard to come by was key in getting on board
international donor agencies and private sector to mobilise funding
to support the national response. The UN in Kenya repurposed $45
million from the United Nations Development Assistance Framework
(UNDAF) towards the COVID response, and deployed over 150 staff and
volunteers to the government response structures.

In partnership with the Government of Kenya, the UN launched a
Flash Appeal to mobilize $267.5 million to support more than 10
million vulnerable people affected by the pandemic, of which nearly
US$ 60 million was raised. An additional US$ 10 million dollars was
allocated by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, to
construct a specialised 100 bed COVID 19 hospital in Nairobi, which
will remain as additional capacity even after the pandemic is
over.

The UN in Kenya has prepared a COVID-19 socioeconomic response
and recovery plan to address the health care system, social
protection, employment opportunities and social cohesion. The
recovery plan will be implemented in the next two years and will
cost $155 million to focus on recovering better from the pandemic
for the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The country is still in the maelstrom of the pandemic. The
devastating consequences of the pandemic have not fully played out
and important challenges remain, some wrought by the pandemic but
many that continued long before, such as high health care costs for
millions of Kenyans, gender inequalities, widespread poverty, youth
unemployment, environmental degradation, corruption and
terrorism”.

The country must converge at every level to address these
threats today or suffer the consequences tomorrow. Recovery will be
made much tougher by the economic toll of COVID-19 as well as an
exhausted and depleted health system.

Still, the pandemic has shown that Kenya can overcome
partisanship, think anew and work on short and longer-term
sustainable development priorities towards ‘building back
better’, with more resilience to future shocks.

As the
UN Deputy Secretary General, Ms Mohammed said
, “I am
convinced that Kenya will continue demonstrating that results and
transformation are possible and I call upon all of you to double
your efforts to invest at scale in those critical interventions
that will unlock benefits across all the goals, to make bold
choices, to take decisive action and to leave no one behind in your
pursuit of a better future.

Kenyans can be fully assured of the commitment of the United
Nations to overcome every adversity, leapfrog socio-economic
recovery and progress to realise Vision 2030 and the Sustainable
Development Goals.


Siddharth Chatterjee
is the United Nations Resident Coordinator
to Kenya. This article was originally published in
Forbes Africa
.

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The Triple Humanitarian Crisis and Why Kenya Deserves An A + in its
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The Triple Humanitarian Crisis and Why Kenya Deserves An A +
in its Response