The African continent is still predominantly rural, but it has some of the fastest-growing urban regions in the world. As a result, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 72 per cent of the population now live in informal settlements known as ‘peri-urban’ areas where populations, often from rural areas, settle.
African informal settlements have been badly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic due to the close proximity of residents, lack of formal infrastructure, poor healthcare provision, and fragile community economic resources.
Residents are facing high infection rates, food shortages, loss of income and families are missing out on access to digital services such as online e-learning for school children.
The pandemic is also putting a strain on local government organisations which often do not have the resources to develop suitable infrastructure or health care for these informal settlements. Central government responses are also varied – a situation that increases the perception of risk and reduces the likelihood of investment in relief efforts from philanthropic organisations.
Through the Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystem (PURE) project, York researchers are helping residents, community-based organisations, shack dweller federations, and government bodies evaluate the current situation and improve their preparations for future disease outbreaks.
The team is currently helping to administer a survey of 4,500 households across Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia to gather residents’ views on the way the coronavirus outbreak has been handled, their perception of risk, the impact the pandemic has had on their livelihoods and how they have tackled the virus at an individual level.
Dr Steve Cinderby, Principal Investigator for the PURE project, explains: “PURE’s work is giving immediate benefit on-the-ground in terms of providing better local information to help guide the COVID-19 response in the informal settlements.
“It provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to feed this learning into debates on how to build-back-better – helping build resilience to multiple future environmental threats – hopefully reducing their impact particularly on the vulnerable urban poor.”
After the survey has been completed in late July, the researchers will work with community-based organisations and government bodies to design suitable pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery plans.