Community Resilience, is achieved by doing

By Shadrack Mbaka and Grace Watetu; MuST

Mathare settlement Aerial view
Mathare settlement Aerial view

One of Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Kenya federation of the Urban poor) slogan is, Information is power! But when does this information amerce power? More importantly, when does data gathered from enumerations, city profiling, policy studies and rapid data response collection transform to wield power for urban poor communities, to leverage their national, city or county governments to allocate their resources for development?

Muungano Support Trust (MUST) supports the collection of community-led data collection and supports the Kenyan federation and its members in the collection and documentation of this data. In the SDI realm such sets of data are considered catalysts for negotiation with national and county –governments.

Focussed Group Discussion; Data Collection Tool
Focussed Group Discussion; Data Collection Tool

The Kenyan Federation of the Urban Poor (Muungano wa Wanavijiji) and their support NGO; MuST are enjoined in a food security (specifically food safety) study in Mathare Valley informal settlement, with International Institute for Environmental and Development (IIED) and The Development Planning Unit (DPU).In 2013 the Ghana Federation of urban poor and Muungano wa Wanavijiji played host to the first and second food security learning exchanges. These exchanges aimed at sharing knowledge on how best informal communities can address food security, and build on other important facets such as improved sanitation and infrastructure, land tenure and housing rights and the informal governance and utilization of open public spaces for the benefit of the communities.

The food environment and market sources, in a formal or informal context remains a complex reality, since people’s decisions about where to live, eat and shop remains part and parcel of human conscience. The informal food sector exists in all countries of the world. It has continued to flourish, even when illegal or state-oppressed. Africa’s rapid urbanization has made food vendors as a critical element of the large informal economy in its cities (e.g. street food generates about $100 million in Accra, Ghana) (Shapouri et al., 2009).

Urban poor households often rely on the food resources that are generated within the informal sector (Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 1999). Slum dwellers, within their settlements always enjoy foods prepared by food vendors. However, residents remain exposed to diseases such as diarrhea, and cholera as a result of lack of best food safety practices due to deplorable drains, sewers and toilet facilities. Through the food study, members of the Mathare food vendors association and the larger community at large, by way of learning have boosted their capacities to integrate various methodologies to gather data that is likely to influence food security and safety policies in informal settlements in Kenya.

Community participatory/mobilization tools

“As a result of abject poverty, we informal communities through harsh and excluding policies we have been wired to take cognizance of our physical constraints in the space within which we street vendors operate,” explains Nancy Njoki, a founder member of the Bondeni Food vendors association.

Nancy Njoki; Founder of Food Vendors Association
Nancy Njoki; Founder of Food Vendors Association

A community-led approach to settlement issues is often considered half the solution to these issues. In relation to the food safety study in Mathare and Mukuru indicates that infrastructure and environmental hazards are key development priorities for informal settlements to attain high successes in ensuring food safety and sanitation principles.

According to Julia Wacera, community mobiliser in Mathare, “The formation of Food Vendors Aassociation (FVA) was not all about lobbying for the interests of food vendors but a strategic platform to champion issues of sanitation and improved basic infrastructure in the settlements, which have direct impacts on food safety. Hence the study incorporated variant methodologies that did not only intend to collect data, but build the social and technical capacities of communities taking part in the food safety study in Mathare, Mukuru and Kibera.

This study embraced methodologies such as Focused group discussions (FGDs, where communities had the platform to understand what the food security initiative in the informality context is all about and it’s direct linkage to sanitation and infrastructure, we also had quite an experience in thecommunity-led digital which involved the use of GPS enabled Samsung phones, that allows us pick our settlement coordinates, fill in electronic questionnaires and take photos of the vending and open spaces and also paper mapping,which enabled us understand what triggers competition for public vendor spaces and broken and dysfunctional infrastructure.”

Community Mappers
Community Mappers

By using Balloon mapping technology, the communities were able to take digitized maps of their settlement, with an aerial view. “Through balloon mapping, we food vendors are able to identify areas which are prone to poor sanitation, such where there are as open sewers and heaps of garbage and later clean them,” Says Margaret Wangeci, a food vendor.

Balloon mapping tool, aimed to complement a well data collection procedure to generate up-to-date very high resolution ‘satellite image, produced by the community and -for the community’ to locate contested public and privately owned land in the settlement along with infrastructure and service provision and condition; to examine seasonality and time effects that dictates sale of particular foods i.e. the dynamics of locations as the street vendors change locations of their trading places in the morning and evening, and what underlying factors influences such dynamic use of public spaces – especially in relation to infrastructure; as well as examine settlement wide livestock keeping practices, types, quantity and location.

“Urban development is all about social mutual trust, the information we have collected is processed in trust with MUST, IIED and DPU, and we are delighted by their efforts and bring back the data and building consensus with us the custodians of this information,” Feedbacks, Baba Mark, a community leader.

Bottom-up development

Resilience to food insecurity, on which climate change has an enormous impact, is as a result of low-income communities trying to sustain their lives. For slum dwellers to beat city exclusions, County governments ought to increase engagement with community members through best practice and sound policy formulations that cater for the living sustainability of the poor.

Governments feel reluctant to work with slum residents due to the complexities of their informalities. But making good use of data and documentation of such studies apportions the urban poor a platform to engage the government while wielding solutions in hand. This requires action from communities and a change in government attitude. City authorities need to cross over from formality to informality and work with slum dwellers as means to improving the quality of housing, strengthen social movements, innovate solutions of utilization of public spaces in informal settlements and improvement of sanitation infrastructure, poor communities will continue to demonstrate to governments their capacities as partners in sustaining resilience.

Muungano BulletinComment