How does a pandemic impact water security for the urban poor? – A case from Nairobi’s informal settlements

Authors: Nupur Joshi*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development
Topics: Urban Geography, Africa, Development
Keywords: COVID-19, water insecurity, urban, global south, slums, hand washing
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


“In Nairobi, water is the most valuable possession one could have”, said Mwangi, a 26-year old man who sells water in the densely-packed Mukuru slums on the periphery of Nairobi, Kenya. Life in Mukuru drastically changed in April 2020 when Kenya shut down factories and informal businesses to control the spread of COVID-19. Many people from Mukuru lost their jobs, and it became difficult to access basic services such as water – which is supplied by small scale informal providers in Mukuru. This paper examines how stay at home regulations during April impacted household water insecurity levels in three informal settlements in Nairobi. Drawing from remote surveys conducted with 556 households in June 2020, the paper analyzes how informal water vendors faced severe water shortages causing their water prices to spike. Many households thus became highly water insecure at the very time when water became even more important to prevent the spread COVID-19. Families were forced to taking out loans to pay for their rent, food and water bills as many lost their livelihoods. Through empirical analysis, this paper shows how water insecurity inhibited COVID-19 control strategies such as regular hand washing, whereas other control strategies also increased water insecurity among the urban poor. Analysis utilizes a composite variable - water insecurity score, calculated from household water insecurity experience scale adopted from the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) Research Coordination Network.

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