Urban and Rural Areas Have Seen Similar Impacts From COVID-19 in Kenya

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August 6, 2021 - Author: John Olwande, Timothy Njagi, Miltone Ayieko, Mywish K. Maredia, and David Tschirley

Introduction 

When WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on 30th January 2020 and a pandemic on 11th March 2020, Kenya and many other governments responded with a range of measures aimed at slowing the spread of local infection. Responses included containment and mitigation measures such as restrictions on population mobility (lock-down and curfew), social gatherings and economic activities, and health specific measures to manage infections and mitigate spread. The measures were expected to reduce local spread of the virus but also to negatively affect normal social and economic activities, and thus the livelihoods of population (e.g. Zeufack et al. 2020). Governments were thus confronted with the need to protect both lives and livelihoods. Many therefore instituted social protection interventions to cushion their populations from anticipated negative impacts of the pandemic and the associated policy responses on economic welfare. Yet in most cases, limited fiscal capacity meant that these responses were unable to cushion the economic blow for most people. 

The objective of this research was to analyze the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment and mitigation responses on rural and urban livelihoods in Kenya. Documenting the effects of the pandemic on livelihoods can help guide resource allocation and inform policy actions for future crises. Data was collected from a nationally representative sample of 800 households stratified equally between rural and urban areas. We used cell phone survey to collect data between 18th September and 26th October 2020. Data included changes in income, coping strategies used, food quantity and quality, and assistance received from the government between July and October 2020. Data collection was part of a multi-country study across African countries: Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and Zambia (Maredia et. al., 2021). 

Results show significant decline in reported incomes of households in both rural and urban areas as households lost sources of income. The share of households reporting per capita per day income below PPP$1.90 increased significantly from 61% in March 2020 (which we consider the pre-pandemic period) to 73% in July 2020 (four months into the pandemic). A majority of rural and urban households also consumed less food and reduced the quality of their diets. These findings confirm that containment measures for Covid-19 pandemic have had significant negative economic impacts on households in both rural and urban areas. The broad findings are generally consistent with other studies in Kenya, which have found that households lost income sources and experienced food shortages. Yet none of these other studies are at a representative scale and compare the Covid-19 impacts by rural and urban populations, as this study does. 

It is likely that the pandemic will be a lingering grave concern in Kenya for some time based on the fact that the country has been through three waves of the pandemic, there is continuing emergence of new variants, and the pace of vaccination is slow. There is need for expanded social safety net programs to support affected households in both rural and urban areas. It is critical to prioritize mass vaccination of the population to facilitate faster return to normal participation in economic activities

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Tags: food security group, innovation lab for food security policy research capacity & influence, prci policy research note

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