By CHARLES OGALLO
Being the second hardest hit county by COVID 19 after Nairobi, Mombasa residents, living in the sprawling areas of the six subcounties of Changamwe, Jomvu, Kisauni, Likoni, Movita and Nyali, fear hunger than the deadly disease.
‘Hunger will kill us not corona’ is what you hear when you traverse the populous Kisauni subcounty of 291,930 people according to the recently released Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS)’ 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census: Volume I Report.
Since the outbreak of Kenya’s first case of coronavirus on March 13, 2020, approximately 1.3 million Kenyans are currently facing worse levels of acute food insecurity amid the ravaging COVID 19 pandemic.
The GeoPoll survey report, released recently, indicates that Kenyans are already concerned about what to eat when most of them have been rendered ‘jobless’ after consecutive Presidential directives of dawn-to-dusk curfews and cessations within COVID 19 hotspots in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Already, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned of an impending food crisis if actions are not taken to protect supply chain and distribute food to vulnerable populations.
With the latest Kenya’s coronavirus cases hitting 1,286 as par May 26, 2020, shows that COVID 19 infections are yet to stabilise with the Ministry of Health personnel expressing concern over noncompliance of containment measures and protocols to stop the spread of the virus.
This growing trend puts pressure to Mombasa whose cases have continued to fluctuate between Nairobi and itself whenever there are health ministerial briefs at Afya House with all its six subcounties featuring prominently.
As we speak the County has already surpassed the 400-case mark with many of its residents struggling not ‘to die’ due to lack of what to eat day in, day out without respite of food any time in the near future.
Take Elias Kaingu, 44, for instance. He lost his job in March without pay when his boss told him to walk citing the pandemic and forcing him to face his six children (four sons and two daughters) with empty hands.
“Now tell me, how do you face your children and tell them hakuna pesa (no money) when they expect you to provide?” he poses.
His efforts to plead with his employer at his King’orani-Majengo hardware shop landed on ‘deaf ears’ as he continued to complain that business was low and therefore had no otherwise but to close shop.
Again, his efforts to get Mombasa County relief food commonly referred to by many a resident as ‘Governor Joho Food Packs’ bore no fruits leaving him with no option but to run a bowl to neighbours for assistance.
“You know the story of that lady who had to boil stones to lure some of her youngest children to sleep from unending cooking? Actually, that’s story in most household in the expansive Kisauni Constituency,” he adds.
Another resident, Amina Sidi, a widow of four children, who has been earning her livelihood by washing clothes for people Bamburi and Kiembeni high-rise estates, says hunger is what she fear most not coronavirus!
According to her the resources at hand cannot cater for her immediate basic needs such as food or water which she buys from waterpoints at a fee.
“If the so-called Joho food does not reach us, I don’t know what will happen because we now rely on relief food for our survival,” she says insinuating how long will they wash their hands without something to eat.
While speaking to this writer, her two-year-old daughter pulls her long hair from behind crying for something to eat as the mother struggled to calm her with ‘sweet words’ of going to buy viazi (fried potatoes) from the shop.
Kaingu and Amina are just the tip of the iceberg of tens of thousands of needy and vulnerable residents currently fighting to survive in the face of growing hopelessness amid biting curfew and cessation directives in place.
On April 21, 2020, the County Government of Mombasa kicked off the distribution of the first phase of COVID 19 household food relief targeting 50,000 families starting with the Changamwe subcounty before spreading elsewhere.
Tom Ngar, a programmes coordinator with Mombasa County Healthcare Network (MCHANE) which is a network of civil societies championing for better health care services, says food insecurity is really becoming a serious issue that needs urgent intervention from both the county and national governments.
“The way County food packs are being distributed is wanting because the exercise is purely under the control of politicians so those being given are the needy or poor people but families of the politicians and their supporters,” he alleges.
Another civil society, Mombasa Women of Faith Network, questions the established structures of distributing the relief food saying it had a lot of loopholes for exploitation by unscrupulous leadership bent on benefiting from the same.
Its organising secretary Shamsha Abubakar cites instances where some families get such food supplies from various distribution centres that deny larger segments of needy population missing out.
“There have also been cases where food is distributed through religious and ethnicity biases,” the secretary says calling on the government, especially the chiefs, to address the matters by putting proper structures of monitoring the distribution of food in the grassroots levels.
Food security remains a fundamental human right as enshrined in Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya which says every man, woman and child has the right to be free from hunger and have food of acceptable quality.
Dr Obuya Bagaka, an expert on governance, devolution and public policy issues says that food right agenda needs to be addressed and captured constantly in the County Integrated Development Plans( CIDP) in order to advance and sustain food security hence food right both at the county and national levels.
“Exploiting the CIDPs to advance food right and sustainable food security at the county level is the best way to go and county leadership has a noble responsibility through national government support to ensure this works for the good of the people,” he adds while speaking at a media workshop in Mombasa recently.
His sentiments are echoed by Route to Food Alliance Layla Liebetrau who further emphasizes the need for both governments to prioritize more of their plannings on essential needs of citizens such as food and shelter.
“Human right to food is not just the right to be fed but the right to feed oneself in dignity and a policy must be formulated to address any gap seen to existing in the current food system” she says.
The 2018-2022 Mombasa County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) shows that the county is a net importer of food and other agricultural products which even makes it more vulnerable to hunger and complicated to feed thousands of residents currently suffering due to lack of access to affordable and quality food during this periods of partial lockdowns.
It also indicates that large portions of its food supplies come from neighbouring counties of Taita Taveta, Kwale, upcountry and neighbouring Tanzania.
To supplement its own food supplies, the County government needs to rethink it’s plans and focus more on promoting local food production in a bid to become more food secure once disasters such as COVID-19 pandemic occurs, says Mr Ngar, who is also an advocate of change and development among women in Mombasa.
According to the CIDP the main crops under cultivation in the County include cassava, maize, vegetables, millets and sorghum while a total of 400 hectares of land remains under food crops and 500 hectares under cash crops.
However, the immediate challenge facing residents of Mombasa County is not the CIDP 2018-2022 plan or the COVID 19 pandemic but food deficit and food prices draining them dry without windows of replenishing their dwindling fortunes or pockets under the ongoing dawn-to-dusk curfews and cessation within Old Town.