The COVID-19 pandemic—which is occurring against a backdrop of increased humanitarian needs due to back-to-back drought, floods and a desert locust upsurge—is already exacerbating vulnerabilities across Kenya, particularly for the urban poor.
Kenya reported its first case of COVID-19 on 12 March 2020 and, as at 14 May, 758 cases had been confirmed and 39 deaths reported. Out of the country's 47 counties, 19 have reported COVID-19 cases.
Mandatory quarantine of people who have come into contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19 or of people who had traveled outside of the country was instituted on 25 March with testing of all quarantined people starting on 29 March. Mass testing of high-risk populations in identified geographical areas is also ongoing. It is expected that more cases will be confirmed overstretching the already fragile system especially in counties outside the capital.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding at a time when 21 counties are battling a desert locust infestation which is threatening livelihoods and food security conditions. The locusts were brought by heavy rains during the short-rain season (October-December 2019), coupled with tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean, which created conducive conditions for the spread of desert locust . The current long rains season (March-June 2020) are conducive to the further breeding of desert locusts in Kenya. The Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) and County Steering Groups estimate that pasture and crop losses from desert locust so far are 1-5 per cent in south-eastern Kenya and 5-15 per cent in northern Kenya. About US$ 18.5 million out of the $21.4 million required for the response has been received and has enabled aerial and ground control operations. According to FAO’s Desert Locust Watch and confirmed by the KFSSG’s short rains assessment, there is ongoing hatching of locust nymphs and formation of immature swarms in northern and central counties.
Since the start of the’ long rains’ season, flooding has been reported in more than three quarters of Kenya’s counties (36 out of 47), with landslides reported in the Rift Valley and the central and coastal regions, according to the Government’s National Disaster Operations Centre. , More than 233,000 people have been affected, including over 116,000 people who have been displaced from their homes, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society. The Kenya Meteorological Department forecasts above average rainfall throughout May in parts of the Rift Valley, and in the central, western and coastal regions of Kenya, which could result in further flooding. The heavy rains have also increased the risk of health emergencies. There is concurrent cholera outbreak in Marsabit county which also calls for immediate response amidst the limited resources available.
While access is generally possible in the country, movements restrictions necessarily imposed by the government to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, affect the time and modalities of the response. The lack of a system and clear procedures for movements authorization can cause delays and inefficiencies, while regulations are applied differently in different counties. National NGOs are especially concerned of security implications, should emergency response occur during curfew hours. Furthermore, the suspension of humanitarian flights for passengers to the refugee camps, has had a significant impact on the ability of staff to prepare for COVID-19, to maintain existing services, to refer critical patients and to rotate staff.
A number of mitigation options have been put in place by partners to ensure the continuation of the humanitarian response while contributing to the government’s effort to contain the virus. Humanitarian partners, in coordination with UN agencies, have developed guidance on standard operating procedures (SOP) to ‘do no harm’ during the activities in the refugee camps and in the rest of the country.
Community engagement has increased with high awareness levels of COVID-19 among communities. However, adoption of preventive practices has not been optimal; risking reversal of gains already made. When possible, food distribution has been substituted by cash transfers, which respect social distancing while allowing communities to define their priorities.