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VARTAK: End brutal evictions, they only confirm lip service to housing

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By MALAVIKA VARTAK
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In the early morning biting cold of July 23, 2018, about 10,000 people in Nairobi’s Kibera slum watched in a sleepy haze as their homes and everything they owned were flattened by bulldozers to make way for a new road.

Schools were also brought down, forcing more than 2,000 learners to discontinue their schooling, as were health centres and places of worship.

The scale and brutality of the eviction drew international attention and condemnation.

United Nations experts, including Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Leilani Farah, called on the government to halt it and guarantee the rights to adequate housing and education.

Undeterred, the authorities carried out a similar eviction 10 days later. On August 3, Kenya Railways Corporation and Kenya Power demolished the homes of 10,000 people along the railway line in Kaloleni and Makongeni, in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

In a desperate frenzy, people scrambled to salvage their belongings. Once again, the eviction was carried out without adequate notice, consultation or compensation and in the presence of heavily armed security personnel.

One cannot help but wonder how the government aims to achieve affordable housing, one of its ‘Big Four’ development priorities for the next four years, when it continues to render thousands of families homeless.

Last week, Kenya signed a deal with the United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) to jointly finance 100,000 affordable housing units.

But amid a housing deficit of two million units and evictions, the deal is a case of the government taking one step forward and two back.

Evictions drive people deeper into poverty. Once ejected from home, many people have no choice but to live in even more precarious housing than before.

What chance will people who have been left in a far worse situation by the government’s illegal actions have at accessing adequate and affordable housing?

In Nigeria, thousands of people have been homeless since last year after they were evicted from Otodo-Gbame, an informal settlement in Lagos.

Families have been broken up and are sheltering in the nearby informal settlements, where many share a room with 20 others.

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One woman told Amnesty International that, having lost her home and source of income, she now sleeps on cardboard boxes and her five children no longer go to school.

Prioritisation of the megacity development project by the authorities negates the idea of inclusiveness and puts lives, livelihoods and access to education at risk.

Evictions are not solely an urban phenomenon. Rural areas also witness this human rights violation.

In eSwatini (formally Swaziland), hundreds of subsistence farmers have been left homeless and deprived of their means of livelihood after they were pushed off the land to make way for development.

AI documented the experiences of families evicted in 2014 and this year and their struggle to rebuild their lives.

“They don’t see us as people,” said one woman whose home had been demolished. “They left us out in the open as if we were animals or something to be thrown away.”

Unfortunately, many — including government officials — believe that people without legal title to the land or house they occupy need not be consulted, compensated or protected from homelessness.

But international human rights law is unequivocal: Evictions are illegal; they are never justified, even where people do not have a legally recognised right to the land or house that they occupy.

Evictions are a grave violation of the right to housing and often lead to a breach of several other human rights — such as those to life, food, water, health, education and work.

As another World Habitat Day dawns, leaders and policymakers will, once again, pay lip service to adequate housing for all.

It is time we called them out, raised questions and demanded answers. Residents of informal settlements in the world are already doing so through peaceful protest.

We must join them and remind our governments that housing is an inalienable human right.

If world leaders are serious about adequate and affordable housing for all, ending evictions is a crucial first step to take.

Ms Vartak is Amnesty International’s Researcher/Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Twitter: @malavika_rights



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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