Children playing in the informal settlements of Nairobi (photo by Manu Valcarce)

Many human rights defenders have redirected their time and resources to basic health issues, such as water and sanitation shortages in their communities. Our field projects have reported increased pressure on their workload and mental health.

“The assumption that all Kenyans can access water and soap is not only ignorant but careless.”

Human rights defenders in Nairobi have reported a lack of public health measures, and inadequate food and healthcare. Decades of neoliberal reform in Kenya have privatised the provision of water and entrenched levels of inequality, making appeals to ‘wash your hands’ or ‘buy sanitizers’ redundant to those less fortunate. Between 30 and 60 people usually share a single water tap and pit latrine. According to the Social Justice Centre Working Group, four out of five residents of urban settlements lack reliable access to water and the means to purchase hand sanitisers.

The Working Group has demanded that the government restore the water supply to all slums and clamp down on water cartels. They have asked the Ministry of Health to provide free or subsidised sanitisers, to equip health centres with testing kits, and to train more personnel and ambulances. On top of this, our partners have argued for price controls on basic commodities, food relief, and public education programmes to prepare the public for the pandemic.

The community response

The Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders are leading the fight against the virus in Nairobi, in lieu of government support. They have bought hygiene containers for community members, prioritising elderly and immunocompromised neighbours. The whole community is involved in the effort, with volunteers contributing whatever skills they have and children carrying hygiene containers to those in need.

Coalition leader Rachel Mwikale reports reaching over 100 households on a good day, but points to the larger challenge of providing meals to families due to limited resources.







“So many families want food, but our hands are tied with our resources we can’t reach everyone… I would like to appreciate those who have contributed towards this to enable us to support these families and also challenging the government to bring its support to the grassroots level”.

"People from the informal settlements are always given the last priority when it comes to implementation of government projects, sometimes treated like a third world country, and if this virus penetrates the informal settlements it will be a deadly disaster. So we have taken the initiative to educate other, set up handwashing taps so people can wash their hands and kill the virus because it’s ever spreading."

Victor Owour, Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders