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COVID plunging many Kenyans deeper into poverty

Students in Nairobi, Kenya, walk to school after the January reopening of a national school system closed since March 2020. (Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)

By Brenda Mulinya

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya, thousands of families are struggling with deepening poverty and unemployment.  A survey by the charity Twaweza, shows 60% of Kenyan families can no longer afford three meals per day.

In her one-bedroom house just on the outskirts of Nairobi, Rebecca Adagala prepares vegetables for the day’s dinner. It is the only meal she and her grandchildren can afford in a day.

A year ago, things were different for Adagala. She earned enough from her grocery store job to ensure that her family was well fed.

Now, though – one year after COVID-19 struck Kenya – Adagala can barely afford one meal a day. She said sometimes she only has water to drink for her supper and, if she is lucky, a family member who hasn’t lost their job buys corn flour for the family’s meals.

The Kenyan government’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 with lockdowns have led to rising unemployment.

More than 1.7 million people lost their jobs in the first four months of the pandemic.

A survey by Twaweza, a nongovernmental group, shows that in the last six months of 2020, more Kenyans were worried about where their next meal would come from.

James Gichira, a director with Twaweza said the situation is dire.

“Seven out of 10 of the households said that they fear the economical impact much more than health impact,” he said.

A food pantry run by a charity group in Kenya is in high demand as people without jobs cannot feed themselves. Nowhere is the need greater than in the informal settlements, said charity director John Gathungu.

“We are not able to go there freely to distribute the food that we used to distribute, since most people are not going to work, they remained in the villages, I mean their houses, so when they hear there is food being distributed there is almost a stampede,” he said.

Even though Kenya’s coronavirus containment measures have hurt the economy, the government, through its spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, said it is determined to balance the scales by keeping the public safe while also ensuring people are able to put food on their tables.

“The government has been able to start programs to put money in the pockets of those who had lost their livelihoods by initiating weekly stipends,” he said.

Many like Rebecca Adagala, however, they have not yet received these government stipends.

This article was published by Voice of America.


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