International Symposium on Covid-19 Effects and Responses in Informal Settlements and Commercial Zones of Kampala

Globally, economies and societal sectors have been negatively affected by COVID-19 pandemic and its associated containment measures. In Uganda, lockdowns were put in place especially in Kampala as a way of containing spreader events. Makerere University represented by the Urban Action Lab in the Department of Geography, Geo-Informatics and Climatic Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), in collaboration with the University of Manchester Global Development Institute and ACTTOGETHER-Uganda undertook a study titled: “Covid-19 Effects, Experiences and Responses in Informal Settlements and Commercial Zones of Kampala-Uganda”. The results of the study were presented by the team members during the International Symposium on Covid-19 Effects, Experiences and Responses in Informal Settlements and Commercial Zones of Kampala-Uganda held on 15th March 2022 at the College of Computing and Information Sciences’ Conference Room. The project was guided by three (3) main objectives including: (1) Understanding how the COVID-19 measures have amplified health, economic, occupational, and social risks, (2) Understanding the impact of lockdown measures with the increasing cases of COVID-19 infections, and (3) Exploring the experiences and consequences of the enforcement of measures in public places, the governance of these measures, the partnerships, and power-related tensions. The study analyzed collaborative coalitions that emerged as a response to handling the COVID-19 crisis in Kampala city.

Participants during the Symposium on the Effects of Covid-19

Issues Arising from the Symposium

1. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the underlying urban planning and development inadequacies, mainly in the informal sector. It escalated challenges to food systems, WASH services, energy, transport, livelihood, and businesses enterprises, and heightened health risks and exposure to COVID-19. This was  because the majority of the labourforce had to work from home which Increased psychological stress as a result of prolonged shutdowns, partial lockdowns, curfew, and restrictions to specific business establishments. According to Mr. Sseviiri Hakim from ACTTOGETHER, the pandemic negatively impacted Kampala informal settlements – the State measures were inadequate and collective action worked but still lacked.

Covid-19 Symposium effects, experiences and responses from different stakeholders

2. Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ researchers led by Dr. Paul Mukwaya discovered that it was impossible and financially unmanageable to implement comprehensive rescue packages in urban areas during the pandemic. Lockdowns and physical distancing were highly impractical for densely populated settlements and informal enterprises.

3. Kampala City is characterized by a rapidly growing population, with low-income settlements, mixed land uses and limited planning. The industrial sector is estimated at 80% with 60% GDP and the informal sector businesses at 90% with trade at 72%, manufacturing at 23% and services at only 6%. The rate of urbanization in Kampala has outpaced infrastructure investment and expansion capacity with under-serviced Informal settlements characterized by stretched education and healthcare systems. Private sector clinics and drug shops majorly dominate the health domain with the majority of low-income residents’ accessing health services from clinics and drug shops. The level of health services reflected negatively to the COVID-19 response and containment with few public hospitals and health centres providing health services to mostly the low-income earners.

Participants during the symposium on the effects of covid-19 pandemic

4. Government has done something as far as curbing the spread of COVID-19 is concerned. However there is need for self-assessment among people in order to stop criticizing the government on what it has done and what it has not done. There is need for Government to establish National food stores for food storage during the pandemic. There is also need for government to revisit allocations in the Parish Development Model (PDM) by programming instead of imposing since parishes are fewer compared to the people.

Participants who took part in the Covid-19 Symposium at Makerere University

5. In regard to efforts geared towards financial recovery from Covid-19 effects, Mr. Mwanje Nicholas, Kinawataka Zone, urged citizens to opt for financial inclusion especially by saving with Saccos. He encouraged social service pillars aimed at getting data from communities to take care of special interest groups through  mindset change and physiological approach.

6. COVID-19 and its measures have globally affected economies. Mr. Ssevviri Hakim noted that the health, economic and social risks were amplified by COVID-19. “There is need to support community-led Initiatives through enhancing the capacity of existing structures. Communities need to work together as well as learn to acknowledge the contribution of others in the fight against the pandemic.

7. According to Mr. Lubega Idiris, vendors were allowed to sleep in markets during the pandemic but the markets barely had the necessary structures. Mr. Lubega urged Government to facilitate the pro-activeness of local level coalitions through provision of accurate information, resources in form of finance and equipment, building synergies for transformational actions and collaborations

8. Mr. Kasaija Peter, a PhD student in the Department of Geography, Geo-Informatics and Climatic Sciences encouraged the team to put in place an engagement system were researchers can engage with different stakeholders in order to ensure continuous growth of communities even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Symposium on Covid-19 Effects, Experiences and Responses

Approach and Methods

The project team applied Participatory research approach with mixed methods- (Academia, ACTogether, NSDFU, local administrative structure); Focus group discussions (FGDs), (30 FGDs- informal business enterprises, settlement residents, local leaders, COVID-19 taskforce or team members, transport operators, and social service providers) and Key informant interviews (KIIs)- CSOs, KCCA technocrats and politicians, Document reviews, and Videography.

COVID-19 Trends and Implementation Taskforce  

Participants during the Covid-19 Effects on Informal Settlements and Commercial Zones of Kampala Symposium

The first COVID-19 case was identified on 21st March 2020 in Uganda. COVID-19 cases went on increasing from 52 cases in April 2020 to 123,742 cases by October 2021 and 98% of these were through local transmissions and only 2% of the cases were imported, with 3,161 deaths registered in the country. The country had two prolonged total lockdowns, with selective lockdowns in the education sector for over 16 months. 24.5% of the population in the central business district was highly vulnerable (shopping malls, transactional offices and transport hubs), with 47.3% moderately vulnerable and 38.2% having the lowest level of vulnerability.

The city and division taskforce against COVID-19 were coordinated by KCCA, with support from the ministry of Health, private sector and several development partners including AMREF and URCS. These enforced the presidential directive, set up divisional rapid response surveillance teams, dedicated 90% of the city’s centres to covid-19 emergencies, provided hand washing and hygiene facilities, built capacity of VHT’s, did community sensitization etc. VHT’s provided first aid, raised awareness and direct links to emergency response services through toll free communication channels. Tracked, reported and facilitated the evacuation of suspected cases.

 COVID-19 Response and Social protection

Government rolled out a food distribution programme in early April 2020 were families were given 6 Kgs of maize flour and 3 Kgs of beans per household. However, 75% to 95% of the residents in their respective settlements received food relief from government. The Food distribution mechanism had Irregularities including: supply of substandard and less nutritious foods to vulnerable populations; High and middle-income households given food relief in contrast to the targeted low-income household; Alienation of opposition supporting households; No accountability to all food kinds donated to the NTF. Government also distributed facemasks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. However the facemasks were of poor quality and of small sizes. Regarding the promise of economic recovery packages through UDB, there were no clarifications on how the informal sector could access such funds. Government also launched a cash transfer initiative during the second wave of the pandemic i.e., (UGX. 100,000 or USD 27.7) but less than 50 households received cash in a parish.

COVID-19 Socio-Economic and Health Impacts  

The pandemic amplified urban inequalities and chronic poverty due to job loss and wage reduction. Livelihoods changed due to increased food and energy prices and closure of Informal businesses. The pandemic also increased the exposure of food selling vendors to the risk of arrest and confiscation of their goods on city streets. There was widespread food insecurity which forced families to reschedule feeding patterns, the quality of food eaten, dietary intake and number of times eaten in a day.

 During the first and second phases of lockdown, there was restriction in public transport. The lockdowns and suspension of public transport services disrupted access to healthcare. The bans on public transport led to the spike in the cost of access to healthcare. This was worsened by the incapability of Uganda’s health services to adequately respond to the crisis with many public hospitals lacking enough equipment.

 Landlords were reluctant to provide toilet-emptying services and female headed households and youths were unable to pay for water and sanitation facilities which increased the rate of open defecation by residents. During the pandemic, there was improved hygienic conditions due to increased adherence to hand washing and hand sanitization.

 Recommendations for addressing future related Pandemics

1. There is need to harness the local intelligence of communities to address the long-term challenges faced by slum dwellers.

2. There is also need to coordinate communication, planning, decision-making, and operations across a wide range of stakeholders in cities for future response.

3. Government should engage: Civic groups, CSOs, local leaders, cultural and religious institutions in case of crisis because they are key in mobilizing and gaining trust in the community and are much trusted by residents than government messaging and policies.

4. Coordination mechanisms for targeted responses should be put in place and flexibly changed based on prevailing contexts and a full communication cycle should be embraced and implemented.

5. Strong partnerships are key to unlock the potential benefits of collaboration between these complementary people-centered approaches.

6. Identifying and supporting community-led solutions for bringing the outbreak under control facilitates people’s active participation in the response.

Article Compiled by Kasemiire Mariam, Web Administrator, CAES


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