WFP launches cash transfers for poor families in Kenya hit by coronavirus


NAIROBI — In Kenya, a major UN-led cash and nutrition relief project is underway for informal workers facing a hunger crisis brought on by COVID-19, amidst warnings on Friday that the situation is likely even worse in many poorer countries.

“COVID-19 has caused untold suffering especially to families living in the poor urban areas who normally rely on informal day-to-day employment; many families in the coastal region are struggling just to feed themselves”, said Lauren Landis, WFP’s Kenya Country Director.

With the help of local and national authorities in Kenya, the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun rolling out aid for more than 400,000 urban poor in COVID-19 hotspots.

In addition to the 300,000 people in Nairobi receiving aid for the next four months, around 100,000 more in Mombasa will receive three months’ assistance in the coastal city.

“WFP’s support complements other social protection programs run by the national and county governments”, Landis explained. “Together, we can avert a hunger and nutrition crisis among poor communities living in urban areas”.

Throughout Kenya, some 1.7 million people living in informal settlements have been affected by the COVID crisis amidst surging infection numbers, according to WFP.

The unemployment rate has doubled to 10.4 percent, from 5.2 percent in March when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to the national statistics office.

Once a month, each selected family in need will receive around $40 in the local currency, enough to cover half of the monthly food and nutrition needs for a household of four.

Travel restrictions and partial lockdowns have devastated Mombasa’s coastal economy, which relies heavily on tourism.

Mombasa County, which is Kenya’s second-largest urban area, accounts for 12 percent of the number of coronavirus infections in Kenya, the second-highest number after the capital, Nairobi, WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri said.

“As a result of rising infections, most of the tourism sector was forced to cut its workforce and many businesses either closed entirely or are struggling to stay afloat”, he told journalists via an online briefing in Geneva.

The UN agency is also partnering with the national and local government to support malnutrition treatment for some 6,000 children and women in Mombasa. This involves providing a nutritious peanut-based paste for children and fortified flour for malnourished mothers.  

Outside Kenya, which is Africa’s third-largest economy, WFP warned that countries with large numbers of the urban poor living in crowded slums were also vulnerable.

These included Nigeria, Africa’s wealthiest nation, where the agency only recently announced measures to help struggling families to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic in the three urban pandemic hotspots of Abuja, Kano, and Lagos.

In Somalia, where WFP already supports 125,000 in urban areas, the agency plans to assist up to 450,000 internally displaced people who are likely to be impacted by COVID-19.

WFP has also increased its overall relief plan in response to the triple shock of COVID-19, the desert locust invasion, and flooding.

In South Sudan, on top of regular assistance provided to five million people a month, WFP intends to assist an additional 1.6 million individuals in mainly urban settings who face rising food needs linked to COVID-19.