Three years ago, asphyxiated by Venezuela’s economic meltdown, Francisco Rojas and his wife Elena packed up four suitcases with the barest of essentials and walked out of their Caracas apartment.
It has remained empty ever since.
Toothbrushes are still perched on the bathroom sink, the refrigerator runs with only ice and tomato sauce inside, and the bar is empty except for a lone bottle of rum.
Deserted homes, desolate apartment blocks and stagnant markets for both renters and buyers are yet another disheartening by product of the South American country’s dire economic straits, which have prompted a mass exodus.
Elena, 33, was offered a job in Ecuador and there was no looking back. She can now earn as much in one month as she did in four years in Caracas.
When the couple left Venezuela, they simply locked the doors to the apartment rather than selling it, even though the money would have helped. Bought for $100,000 in 2014, their home had already lost half of its value.
“We wanted to see how things would go. Now that we’re established, it would be absurd to sell,” Francisco Rojas, a 28-year-old sports journalist, told AFP from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous city.
In Venezuela, more and more apartment blocks have turned into ghost buildings.
Lights are never turned on, parking spaces remain empty and mailboxes are jammed with letters that are never claimed.
The crisis has sparked a new business — management of deserted homes.
Such services include the payment of public services bills, representation at condo meetings and even the switching on of lights at various times to ward off burglars.
According to the United Nations, some 1.6 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 and a total of 2.3 million live abroad — some 7.5 percent of the total population of 30.6 million.
The Rojases were tired of the insecurity, the lack of food and medicine and the inflation — predicted by the International Monetary Fund to reach a staggering one million percent this year — that rendered their salaries practically worthless.
Hope springs eternal, though, even for those who have already left.
“If the situation improves, we’ll see if we return to Venezuela or sell the apartment,” said Francisco.
Right now, it’s not a sellers’ market.
Roberto Orta, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Real Estate in Caracas, says properties have lost 70 to 80 percent of their value over the last five years.
“An apartment that cost $170,000 is worth no more than $70,000 today. Someone offers $50,000 and the owner prefers to leave it locked,” real estate broker Carolina Quintero told AFP.
Mariana Garcia, a 41-year-old accountant who fled in 2017 with her husband and two children, says her house “lost more than half its value” but they held onto it.
“We locked the house, (left it) intact, and left with just two suitcases,” she said from the United States, where her husband accepted a job offer after first emigrating to Ecuador.
“Even if you have money, there’s nothing to buy or there’s no water,” said Garcia, explaining that she and her family took off before it was too late, worried that as international airlines shut down, they could be stranded in Venezuela.
As well as a reluctance to sell, homeowners who have moved abroad don’t want to rent their properties for fear of being unable to reclaim them from tenants, as authorities often prevent evictions, even in the case of rental contract violations.
Rental laws oblige proprietors to sign contracts with their tenants of at least one year that must be extended for six months to three years.
According to Orta, the rental market is operating at just five per cent of its potential.
Carlos Gonzalez, president of the National Real Estate Chamber, told AFP that “hyperinflation means it’s not worth renting in bolivars,” but few people have access to dollars which, since 2003, have only been available on the black market.
Squatters are also a worry for homeowners.
In some condominiums, neighbors have been asked not to answer questions from people asking about unoccupied properties.
“People are walking past and can see apartments with the lights off,” said Quintero.
In Los Palos Grandes, a middle-class neighborhood on the east side of Caracas, several “squatters have been evicted by police,” Rafael Guerra, from the local neighborhood watch group, told AFP.
In the capital’s western area of La Florida, squatters settled into a property that has been occupied by a business while the workers were on vacation.
“They stole everything. The police evicted them but they weren’t arrested,” said one of the employees.
Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro blame the invasion of properties on a 2011 law passed by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, to “rescue urban land.”
Rojas and his wife are among the many who fear they will lose their home to squatters.
“We’re afraid of being invaded — there are many empty apartments. Our family is always keeping an eye on it,” Rojas said.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
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.
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.
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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.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
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
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
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.
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.
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.