The Urban Poor are Fighting Back Against COVID-19

Maria 5, and Tendo, 4, have learnt the habit of regularly
washing their hands whenever they arrive back home from playing
with their friends, Kamwokya II Ward, Central Division, Kampala
City, Uganda. April 2020. Credit: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

By Mbaye Mbeguere
DAKAR, Senegal, Oct 14 2020 (IPS)

For those who live in slums and informal settlements, the
Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront their greatest
vulnerabilities. But they are fighting back; organising, and coming
up with creative ways to protect their communities.

Regular handwashing with soap and water is a first line of
defence in protecting from deadly diseases, but in sub-Saharan
Africa, 63 per cent of people in urban areas – that’s 258
million people – lack access to decent handwashing
facilities.

Globally, there are 3 billion people who do not have access to
soap and water to wash their hands at home.

Other preventative measures employed by governments such as
lockdowns and curfews are equally implausible for those living in
slums and informal settlements.

It’s often so crowded that there is often no space for
physical distancing, especially for those who need to leave their
homes to collect water or use communal toilets.

When businesses are informal and your economy functions on a
day-to-day basis, advice to work from home, or close your business
is unworkable. In many places informal markets have been cleared
and people evicted in response to COVID-19, ignoring the rights of
the urban poor and the role they play in the rest of the city.

Despite all these barriers, those living in informal settlements
are organising to fight back against COVID-19.

Some of the most inspiring responses to the pandemic we are
seeing have been led by residents of informal settlements. They are
installing handwashing stations, producing maps and situation
reports, and even highlighting isolation areas.

We must learn from, and scale up, these community-led
activities, and empower people to protect themselves.

At WaterAid, supported by partners such as H&M Foundation,
we have been working with groups within informal settlement in
their work to bring handwashing facilities, clean water and decent
toilets to everyone in their community.

Credit: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

In Kamwokya II, in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, which is
home to more than 6,000 people in less than half a square kilometre
of land, Christopher Tumwine leads a community action group called
‘Weyonje’ (clean yourself’), supported by WaterAid and the
Kampala Capital City Authority.

For Chris, clean water, good hygiene and decent toilets are
always front of mind. Weyonje goes house to house talking to people
about how to use toilets properly and dispose of the waste
safely.

Worried that advice and programmes aimed to protect the
population against COVID-19 are leaving informal settlements
behind, they are now also teaching people about the importance of
hygiene and handwashing.

To create long term change, Chris needs the support of
government, business and his neighbours, and in recent years, he
has spent his time campaigning for a sustainable solution to
protect his community’s health, safety and dignity from
overflowing sewers, filthy water and disease.

Chris said: “Our settlement is densely
populated, and houses are near each other. Social distancing is a
myth in the slums, it is something designed for people living in
affluent places of the city. We have shared toilets, bathrooms and
public water taps, and our children always get out of the houses to
play with other kids in the neighbourhood. We are just lucky that
Coronavirus has not reached the slum.”

Chris believes community groups like Weyonje are crucial to
stopping the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 in the area:

“In Kamwokya, we have created a Weyonje WhatsApp group during
the lockdown where group members share information on how best we
can help the community. This is a good platform that we can use to
counter misinformation about COVID-19 that is circulating on social
media. Using megaphones, we carry out house to house community
education; teaching the community residents that proper and regular
handwashing with water and soap is a defence against the spread of
coronavirus.”

As many in the community don’t have a water source close to
home, they create makeshift handwashing stations, filling a plastic
bottle with soap and water and tying it to their front door with
string, so they can wash their hands before entering their
homes.

Across the world there are groups and organisations just like
Weyonje, working tirelessly to protect their communities from the
spread of illness and convince the public and government alike that
clean water and decent toilets must be a priority.

In Kenya, for example, Muungano wa Wanavijiji – which means
‘united slum dwellers’ – are using their knowledge of the
country’s informal settlement to help track cases of COVID-19 and
communicate government messages about preventing the spread of the
disease to those who are the most vulnerable.

In 2019, and before the Covid-19 pandemic started, WaterAid
followed Weyonje and its leader Chris to film their work and
witness an exciting moment for Kamwokya. Watch the film, supported
by H&M Foundation, to see what the team achieved here.

*WaterAid and H&M Foundation are working with
communities, governments and partners, to create long lasting
change, and bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to
communities around the world.

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The Urban Poor are Fighting Back Against COVID-19
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Excerpt:

Mbaye Mbeguere is Senior Wash Manager (Urban)
at WaterAid*

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The Urban Poor are Fighting Back Against COVID-19
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
The Urban Poor are Fighting Back Against COVID-19