Connect with us

Data Stories

COVID-19: Echoes of the 20th Century in a 21st Century Pandemic

In modern history, the most notable major pandemic was the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. Over a century later, the world is grappling with the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has currently infected over 2 million people and killed over 140,000.

Published

on

Download PDFPrint Article

Diseases have plagued mankind throughout history. The Neolithic Revolution, which was marked by a shift to agrarian societies, preceded by hunting and gathering communities, brought about increased trading activities. The shift created new opportunities for increased human and animal interactions, which in turn, introduced and sped up the spread of new diseases. The more civilized humans became, the more the occurrences of pandemics was witnessed.

This led to outbreaks that left an indelible mark in history due to their severity.  Three of the deadliest pandemics include the Plague of Justinian (541-542 BC) that killed about 30-50 million people, Black Death (1347-1351) that killed 200 million and Smallpox (1520 onwards) that killed 56 million.

Infographic courtesy: Visual Capitalist

In modern history, the most notable major pandemic was the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. Over a century later, the world is grappling with the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has currently infected over 2 million people and killed over 140,000.

But how does the Spanish flu compare to the current COVID-19 pandemic?

The mother of all flu pandemics in modern history

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is sometimes referred to as the mother of all pandemics. It affected one-third of the world’s population and killed up to 50 million people, including some 675,000 Americans. It was the first known pandemic to involve the H1N1 virus.

The outbreak occurred during the final months of World War I. It came in several waves but its origin, however, is still a matter of debate to-date. Its name doesn’t necessarily mean it came from Spain.

An emergency hospital during Spanish flu influenza pandemic, Camp Funston, Kansas, c. 1918 Image Courtesy: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Spain was one of the earliest countries where the epidemic was identified. Historians believe this was likely a result of wartime media censorship. The country was a neutral nation during the war and did not enforce strict censorship on its press. This freedom of the press allowed them to freely publish early accounts of the illness. As a result, people falsely believed the illness was specific to Spain and hence earning the name “Spanish flu”.

Symptoms

Influenza or flu is a virus that attacks the respiratory system and is highly contagious.

Initial symptoms of the Spanish flu included a sore head and tiredness, followed by a dry hacking cough, loss of appetite, stomach problems and excessive sweating. As it progressed, the illness could affect the respiratory organs, and pneumonia could develop. This stage was often the main cause of death. This also explains why it is difficult to determine exact numbers killed by the flu, as the listed cause of death was often something other than the flu.

These symptoms are very similar to those of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Origin

For decades, the Spanish flu virus was lost to history and scientists still do not know for sure where the virus originated. Several theories as to what may have caused it point to France, the United States or China.

Research published in 1999 by a British team, led by virologist John Oxford theorized a major United Kingdom staging and hospital camp in Étaples, France as being the centre of the flu. In late 1917, military pathologists reported the onset of a new disease with high mortality in the overcrowded camp that they later recognized as the flu. The camp was also home to a piggery, and poultry was regularly brought for food from neighbouring villages. Oxford and his team theorized that a significant precursor virus harboured in birds, mutated and then migrated to the pigs.

Other statements have been that the flu originated from the United States, in Kansas. In 2018, another study found evidence against the flu originating from Kansas, as the cases and deaths there were fewer than those in New York City in the same period. The study did, however, find evidence suggesting that the virus may have been of North American Origin, though it wasn’t conclusive.

Multiple studies have placed the origin of the flu in China. The country had lower rates of flu mortality, which may have been due to an already acquired immunity possessed by the population.  The argument was that the virus was imported to Europe via infected Chinese and Southeast Asian soldiers and workers headed across the Atlantic.

However, the Chinese Medical Association Journal published a report in 2016 with evidence that the 1918 virus had been circulating in the European armies for months and possibly years before the Spanish flu pandemic.

COVID-19, on the other hand, was first discovered in the Wuhan province of China late last year. There has been no argument against this so far. Research is still ongoing as to whether it was passed on from bats or the newly found connection to pangolins.

Spread

Much like COVID-19, the Spanish flu was spread from through air droplets, when an infected person sneezed or coughed, releasing more than half a million-virus particles that came into contact with uninfected people.

The close quarters and massive troop movements during the war hastened the spread of the flu. There are speculations that the soldiers’ already weakened immune systems were increasingly made vulnerable due to malnourishment and the stresses of combat and chemical attacks. More U.S soldiers in WW1 died from the flu than from the war.

A unique characteristic of the virus was the high death rate it caused among healthy adults 15-34 years of age. It lowered the average life expectancy in the U.S by more than 12 years.

COVID-19, on the other hand, does not discriminate in terms of age, but older people and those with other underlying medical conditions are being considered more vulnerable.

Measures

The measures being taken today to curb the spread of COVID-19 are very similar to those taken in 1918. Back then, physicians advised people to avoid crowded places and shaking hands with other people. Others suggested remedies included eating cinnamon, drinking wine and drinking Oxo’s beef broth. They also told people to keep their mouths and noses covered with masks in public.

Image courtesy: National Museum of Health and Medicine

In other areas quarantines were imposed and public places such as schools, theatres and churches were closed. Libraries stopped lending books and strict sanitary measures were passed to make spitting in the streets illegal.

Due to World War I, there was a shortage of doctors in some areas. Many of the physicians who were left became ill themselves. Schools and other buildings were turned into makeshift hospitals, where medical students had to step up to help the overwhelmed physicians.

Effects

Though the severity of COVID-19 has not gotten to the level of the Spanish flu, most of the effects the world is experiencing now are very relatable.

The Spanish flu killed with reckless abandon, leaving bodies piled up to such an extent that funeral parlours and cemeteries were overwhelmed. Family members were left to dig graves for their deceased loved ones. Strained state and local health centres also closed, hampering efforts to chronicle the spread of the flu and provide much-needed information to the public. Similar scenes are being witnessed in Italy today, which has so far recorded the highest number of deaths due to COVID-19.

The Spanish flu also adversely affected the economy as the deaths created a shortage of farmworkers, which in turn affected the summer harvest. A lack of staff and resources put other basic services such as waste collection and mail delivery under pressure. COVID-19 has seen some companies send their employees home on unpaid leave and others have imposed pay cuts. If the situation worsens, a majority is likely to lose their jobs.

Fake news during this time was also a problem. Even as people were dying, there were attempts to make money by advertising fake cures to desperate victims. On June 28, 1918, a public notice appeared in the British papers advising people of the symptoms of the flu. It however turned out this was actually an advertisement for Formamints, a tablet made and sold by a vitamin company. The advert stated that the mints were the “best means of preventing the infective processes” and that everyone, including children, should suck four or five of these tablets a day until they felt better.

Image courtesy: ICDS

Fake news has been a concern since the outbreak of COVID-19, with the Internet making it even easier to spread it. See some of our fact checks on the subject here.

The deadliness of WW1 coupled with censorship of the press and poor record-keeping made tracking and reporting on the virus very tedious. This explains why the flu remains of interest to date as some questions are yet to be answered. In contrast, Media coverage on COVID-19 has been commendable and very useful to the public in providing much-needed answers.

Treatment/Vaccine

When the Spanish flu hit, medical technology and countermeasures were limited or non-existent at the time. No diagnostic tests or influenza vaccines existed. The federal government also lacked a centralized role in helping to plan and initiate interventions during the pandemic.

Many doctors prescribed medication that they felt would be effective in alleviating symptoms, including aspirin. Patients were advised to take up to 30 grams per day, a dose now known to be toxic. It is now believed that some of the deaths were actually caused or hastened by aspirin poisoning.

The first licensed flu vaccine appeared in America in the 1940s and from there on, manufacturers could routinely produce vaccines that would help control and prevent future pandemics.

Fast forward to 2020; clinical trials of COVID-19 treatments/vaccines are either ongoing or recruiting patients. The drugs being tested range from repurposed flu treatments to failed Ebola drugs, blood pressure drug (Losartan), an immunosuppressant (Actemra- an arthritis drug) and malaria treatments developed decades ago.

An antiviral drug called Favipiravir or Avigan, developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical in Japan is showing promising outcomes in treating at least mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

As of now, doctors are using available drugs and health support systems such us ventilators to alleviate symptoms. There have been over 500,000 recoveries so far.

Doctors in China, South Korea, France and the U.S. have been using Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine on some patients with promising results. The FDA is organizing a formal clinical trial of the drug, which has already been approved for the treatment of malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Mistakes

The mistakes and delays in taking quick action we are experiencing today with COVID-19 are not new. In the summer of 1918, a second wave of the Spanish flu returned to the American shores as infected soldiers came back home. With no vaccine available, it was the responsibility of the local authorities to come up with plans to protect the public, at a time when they were under pressure to appear patriotic and with a censored media downplaying the disease’s spread.

Some bad decisions were made in the process. In Philadelphia for instance, the response came in too little too late. The then director of Public Health and Charities for the city, Dr Wilmer Krusen, insisted that the increasing fatalities were not the Spanish flu but the normal flu. This left 15,000 dead and another 200,000 sick. Only then did the city close down public places.

The End Of the Pandemic

The pandemic came to an end by the end of the summer of 1919. Those who were infected either died or developed immunity. The world has experienced other flu outbreaks since then but none as deadly as the Spanish flu.

The Asian flu (H2N2), first Identified in China from 1957-1958, killed around 2 million people worldwide. The Hong Kong (H3N2), first detected in Hong Kong, from 1968-1969, killed about 1 million people. Between 1997-2003, Bird flu (H5N1), first detected in Hong Kong, killed over 300 people. More recently in 2009-2010, the Swine flu (H1N1), which originated from Mexico, killed over 18,000 people.

The world’s population has increased from 1.8 billion to 7.7 billion since 1918. Animals alike, which are used for food, have also increased significantly, giving room for more hosts for novel flu viruses to infect people. Transport systems have gotten better making global movement of people and goods much easier and faster, further widening the spread of viruses to other geographical regions.

Even though considerable medical, technological and societal advancements have been made since 1918, the best defence against the current pandemic continues to be the development of vaccine or herd immunity. The biggest challenge, however, is the time required to manufacture a new vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, it generally takes about 20 weeks to select and manufacture a new vaccine.

Dr Eddy Okoth Odari, a senior lecturer and researcher of Medical Virology in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology breaks it down as follows:

“It is anticipated that “herd immunity” would protect the vulnerable groups. We must, however, appreciate that natural “herd immunity” may only occur when a sizeable number of the population gets infected. I note with concern that we may not know and should not gamble with the immunity or health of our populations. This would then call for an “induced herd immunity” through vaccination. Therefore as at now, we must increase our efforts in developing an effective vaccine.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) published instructions for countries to use in developing their own national pandemic plans, as well as a checklist for pandemic influenza risk and impact management. But even with all these plans, there are still loopholes that could still be devastating in the face of a pandemic, as we are currently witnessing.

Healthcare systems are getting overwhelmed and some hospitals and doctors are struggling to meet the demand from the number of patients requiring care. The manufacture and distribution of medications, products and life-saving medical equipment such as ventilators, masks and gloves have also significantly increased, seeing as there is already a shortage being experienced. Dr Okoth has a good explanation for this:

“Translation of research findings into proper policies has been slow since policy formulators have insisted on evidence. For example, as early as March 2019, publications had hinted into a possibility of a virus crossing over from bats to human populations in China, but unfortunately, there was no proper preparedness and if any, perhaps the magnitude of this potential infection was underestimated. Finally, the geopolitical wars and political inclinations among the superpowers are not helping much in the war against infectious diseases. When the pandemic started it was viewed as a Chinese problem, in fact, other nations insisted in it being called a “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”. Even with clear evidence that the virus would spread outside China, the WHO (perhaps to appear neutral) insisted that China was containing the virus and delayed in declaring this a pandemic – the net result of this was that other countries became reluctant in upscaling their public health measures, yet other countries seem to have been keen not to be on the bad books of China.”

There is no telling how long the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will go on for or when and how it will end, but global preparation for pandemics clearly still warrant improvement as Dr Okoth advises.

“Perhaps the lessons that we learn here is that diseases will not need permission to cross borders and since the world has become a global village, there should be proper investments in global health and scientific research.”

This article was originally published by Africa Uncensored. Graphics by Clement Kumalija.

Avatar
By

Peris Gachahi is a reporter at Africa Uncensored.She is passionate about human interest stories told through in-depth documentaries, data stories and digital storytelling.

Data Stories

Kenyan Budget Allocation in the Sector of Agriculture for the FY 2020/2021

For households which are going to be devastated by these economic realities, the government of Kenya needs to put in place adequate safety nets to assure food security and support food producers.

Published

on

JULIET ATELLAH - Kenyan Budget Allocation in the Sector of Agriculture for the FY 2020/2021
Photo: Unsplash/Adrian Infernus
Download PDFPrint Article

One of the important responses and mitigation tools for proper planning and resource allocation during a time of crisis is a budget. Kenya has experienced infestation of desert locusts, floods as well as the rise in confirmed COVID19 cases. Following the government-imposed restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the country is currently not only undergoing a health crisis but also economic crisis.

On 11th June 2020, the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and Planning Ukur Yatani tabled a Ksh. 2.7 Trillion budget for the financial year 2020/2021 starting 1st July 2020. This comes against the backdrop of multiple the crises the country is undergoing.

One of the big four agenda of the government is to enhance food security for Kenyans. Under the sector of Agriculture and food security, the government has allocated Ksh. 8 billion to projects such as Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Project, National Agricultural and Rural Inclusivity Project, Kenya Cereal Enhancement Programme, irrigation and land reclamation among others.

Additional allocation made by the government in the Agriculture and Food sector include: Ksh 3 billion to subsidize the supply of farm inputs to reach 200,000 small scale farmers through the e-voucher system; Ksh 3.4 billion for expanded community household irrigation to cushion farmers from the adverse effects of weather and further secure food supply chains; Ksh 1.5 billion to assist flower and horticultural farmers access international markets; Ksh 1.8 billion to enhance aquaculture business development projects; Ksh 1.4 billion to support small-scale irrigation and value addition; Ksh 1.3 billion to enhance resilience of pastoral communities; Ksh 1.1 billion to enhance drought resilience and sustainable livelihood; Ksh 1.6 billion to support processing and registration of title deeds; and Ksh 500 million to advance agricultural loans through the Agricultural Finance Corporation.

The budget allocation for the Agriculture and Food sector is an increase of 21 percent from Ksh 50.1 billion allocated in the 2019/2020 financial year to Ksh 60.7 billion allocated in 2020/2021.

As compared to the previous financial year 2019/2020, the government had allocated the funds to the following Agricultural sectors: Ksh 1.0 billion for crop diversification and to revitalize the Miraa industry; Ksh 0.8 billion for the rehabilitation of Fish Landing Sites; Ksh 0.7 billion for small-holder dairy commercialization. Ksh 7.9 billion for ongoing irrigation projects. Ksh 2.0 billion for the National Value Chain Support Programme ; Ksh 3.0 billion for setting up the Coffee Cherry Revolving Fund which was aimed at implementing prioritized reforms in the coffee sub-sector and Ksh 0.7 billion to pay outstanding debts to sugar farmers for cane deliveries to public mills. 2nd July 2020, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya announced sugar reforms and government directives on the importation of sugar and cane trading license. Other reforms include leasing of state-owned sugar mills to private investors for a period of 20 days to process and develop cane on farms such as Muhoroni, Chemelil, Sony, Nzoia and Miwani owned by the millers.

Programme based budget for FY 2020/2021, the State Department for Crop Development and Agricultural Research which is a merger of the former State Department for Crop Development and State Department for Agricultural Research, tabled a total expenditure for the FY 2020/2021 Ksh. 40.1 billion. The department is mandated to ensure sustainable development of agriculture for food and nutritional security and socioeconomic development. Improve the livelihoods of Kenyans by ensuring food and nutrition security through creation of an enabling environment, increased crop production, research and development, market access and sustainable natural resource management.

Kenyan Budget Allocation in the Sector of Agriculture for the FY 2020/2021

Kenyan Budget Allocation in the Sector of Agriculture for the FY 2020/2021

The report states that, “ Other key outputs to be delivered will include: subsidy of 582,500 metric tonnes (MT) of fertilizer; procurement and distribution of 750 tractors to farmers; identification, testing and up-scaling of 30 appropriate technologies by the Agricultural Technology Development Centres; increased maize productivity from 40 million bags to 67 million bags through expansion of acreage under maize production; increased ware potato productivity from 1.2 million MT to 1.6 million MT through increased certified seed production and distribution; increased rice productivity from 112,800 MT per acre to 271,000 MT through increased area under cultivation and subsidized mechanization, use of certified seeds and water saving technologies.”

With the comprehensive reforms under the department of Agriculture, the programme based budget further adds, ” The State Department will also ensure increased cotton production from 40,000 MT to 100,000 MT; increased tea production from 1.1 million MT to 1.6 million MT; annual sugarcane production from 4.8 million MT to 8.5 million MT and increased pyrethrum production from 300 MT to 3,000 MT by 2022.”

According to the KNBS economic survey 2020, the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated to have expanded by 5.4 per cent in 2019 compared to a growth of 6.3 per cent in 2018. The growth was spread across all sectors of the economy but was more pronounced in service-oriented sectors. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector accounted for a sizable proportion of the slowdown, from 6.0 percent growth in 2018 to 3.6 per cent in 2019.

Last year, the country experienced a mixed weather phenomenon. This was characterized by drought during the first half of the year, followed by high rainfall in the second half of the year. This culminated in reduced production of selected crops and pasture for livestock.

According to Timothy Njagi Njeru and Milton Were Ayieko from Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Egerton University on COVID-19 on Kenya’s food security, a key challenge for the country is to raise productivity in the agriculture sector. This would not only ensure food availability, but potentially lift households out of poverty. For the government to attain this, it must reduce reliance on rainfed agriculture systems, use modern varieties and technologies by enhancing investments in extension systems, build resilience of farmers against the effects of climate change and variability, and improve agricultural market systems and infrastructure. The 2019 population census states that, total agricultural land operated by households stood at 10.3 million hectares, equivalent to 17.5 per cent of the total land area in the country. Of the total enumerated households, 6.4 million were practicing agriculture. Households growing crops were 5.6 million while those practicing irrigation were 369,679. In total, 5.1 million households were engaged in maize cultivation followed by 3.6 million cultivating beans. Livestock keeping was practiced by 4.7 million households while aquaculture and fishing activities were practiced by 29,325 and 109,640 households, respectively.

With the current Covid-19 pandemic situation, nationally, 30.5 per cent of households were unable to pay rent on the agreed date with the landlord. 52.9 per cent stated their main reason unable to pay rent is due to reduced income/earnings. For households, which are going to be devastated by these economic realities, the government of Kenya needs to put in place adequate safety nets to assure food security and support food producers.

Continue Reading

Data Stories

Follow the Money: Is There a Role for Cash Transfers in Climate Change Adaptation?

While Cash transfers are considered a better way to reach the poor who are in dire need during environmental shocks or as climate change creates ever-harsher conditions funds can still be diverted and embezzled all along the entire cash transfer chain, and the scale and speed of these programmes will intensify the corruption risks involved.

Published

on

Follow the Money: Is There a Role for Cash Transfers in Climate Change Adaptation?
Photo: Flickr/Erict19
Download PDFPrint Article

Climate change is significantly affecting everyone but those who are suffering the most are people already in vulnerable situations. In Turkana County – one of the largest counties in the northern part of Kenya – recurring natural disasters, prolonged droughts and excess floods have lead to loss of lives, livelihood and left many people subject to extreme poverty. These harsh climatic challenges have left Turkana residents, a population of 926,976, to not only rely solemnly on frequent supply of relief food but has also disrupted their rich culture and nomadic way of life.

According to a 2015 Human right’s watch report, “climate change has been one of the many factors that contributes to the lack of access to clean water and food to the residents of Turkana. The county’s minimum and maximum air temperatures have increased by 2°C and 3°C, and the rainfall patterns have also changed”, the report adds.

“During prolonged droughts women and children trek for distances in the hot sunny weather in search of the scarce food and water in the dry riverbeds. Families are unable to provide sufficient food and clean water. Most children are malnourished and hunger stricken. Due to competition on grazing lands and water, there is likelihood of an increase in conflict and insecurity,” the report futher states.

A combination with existing political, environmental and economic development challenges in Turkana has had an impact on the Turkana people’s ability to access food, water, health and security.

A proposed solution: cash transfers

In 2013, the government of Kenya through Vision 2030 on the sector for risk drought management declared ending drought emergencies by 2022 through establishment of a government social protection programme called National Safety Net Programme (NSNP) as part of the government’s initiatives to improve and enhance social protection delivery in the country.

NSNP was established to provide a common operating framework for the government’s four Cash Transfer programmes including, Persons With Severe Disabilities Cash Transfer, Older Persons Cash Transfer, Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Cash (CT- OVC) and the Hunger Safety Net Cash Transfer. Except for Hunger safety Net Cash transfer, the rest are run under the Ministry of Labour and Social protection.

Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) operates under the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, managed by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) a state agency, mandated to exercise overall coordination of all matters relating to drought risk management and to establish mechanisms, either on its own or with stakeholders, that will end drought emergencies in Kenya.

During the HSNP launch in 2008, the people of northern Kenya were gald and ready to embrace the programme as they believed it has the potential to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Northern Kenya.

The program funding

The government of Kenya, with the aid of international donors such as UKAid from the DFID (Department for International Development) partnered with FSD Kenya (Financial Sector Deepening), to cash transfer payments to the people of Wajir, Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera.

FSD Kenya was a specialist development programme originally established by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to provide a continuing mechanism through which donor agencies in Kenya could pool their efforts to support the development of inclusive financial markets. In addition to DFID, it was funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), World Bank, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) and the Gates Foundation. Because of its local expertise and experience in financial service development, FSD Kenya was tasked by DFID to take responsibility for developing a solution to the payments element of HSNP. FSD undertook a long process of market preparation before issuing an open call for tenders to provide payments services. In April 2008, Equity Bank of Kenya was selected by FSD bid panel to provide the payments.

How money transfers are trying to reduce poverty.

How money transfers are trying to reduce poverty.

The programme has been implemented in two phases. Phase 1, starting with a pilot from 2008-2012, funded by DFID & Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Phase two (HSNP2) of the programme started in 2013 – 2018, funded by the Governments of Kenya and the United Kingdom with a two-year extension in readiness for the third phase in 2020.

The cash transfer programme operates in two groups. Group one are households that regularly receive cash transfers and group two are households that receive emergency cash transfers from HSNP during drought.

Turkana is one of the counties that benefit from the programme. A total of 137,534 households have been registered out of this, 39,918 are households targeted to receive routine HSNP payments.

How it works

“On a particular payroll that contains the name of the beneficiary, identity card, Equity Bank of Kenya account number and the amount, there are instances where funds are co-funded by the Government of Kenya or DFID or both,” opines Peter Thirikwa, the Management Information Systems Specialist under the Hunger Safety Net Programme.

“For the DFID Funds, the money would flow through FSD where NDMA will then direct FSD the amount of money for the particular payroll. FSD would then credit the Equity bank of Kenya which is the service provider that opened the accounts for the beneficiries and then Equity bank would move the funds from the holding account to the individual accounts through the Equity Agents (Dukas),” he further notes.

Every financial year, “NDMA sets a budget for HSNP through the ministry of Devolution and Planning, and the funds will flow from the treasury into an NDMA account sitting at the NIC bank. As an authority, NDMA is regulated to open a bank account where money flows from treasury to the operations account as per the mandate of the authority,” he notes further.

“Then NDMA instructs NIC bank to transfer the money to an Equity account through the central bank. Equity is then instructed by NDMA to pay the beneficiaries according to the payroll, which is done through agents in the communities. Equity Bank of Kenya pays the payroll according to the instructions given by NDMA, credits all the households as per the payroll, totalling to the same value that was transferred to the central bank,” Peter concludes.

Delays and distribution issues

The HSNP originally provided Ksh 2,150 to each beneficiary household (or individual in the case of the social pension) every two months then later to Ksh 2,700 every month. Beneficiaries are given a Smartcard and to access the funds they have to use their biometric information, fingerprints in order to collect cash at any time from a range of pay points mainly small shops called Dukas across the four counties.

As of 23rd July 2014, the first year the government was in charge of the program, out of 100,000 target households for group 1 (the routine payments) 90 percent of accounts were opened, 78 percent were active and 77 percent were being paid. An annual report from 2020 said “over the 12 years, HSNP reached nearly 100,000 households (600,000 people, 60 percent of whom were women). Accordingly, group 1 households received regular payments, increasing from Ksh 1,050 every two months under Phase 1 to KES 5,400 under Phase 2.”

However, a team of journalists working with the Elephant visited several villages in Turkana County in November last year and found that though many people said they had been given cards some have never received cash and they didn’t know when to expect them.

The 2018 Auditors general report states that NDMA could not provide bank statements relating to funds transferred to the beneficiaries under HSNP. As a result, the auditor’s could not confirm the balance of Ksh. 2,119,239,700 and Ksh. 2,744,213,700 reflected in the financial statements relating to the government of Kenya and donor funding respectively.

How cash transfer works under HSNP with Kenya

How cash transfer works under HSNP with Kenya

Further, HSNP’s Government of Kenya and Donor programme expenditure of Ksh. 5,049,328,332 that comprised payments to various beneficiaries did not have a document to support the basis of how the various beneficiaries were identified, and the basis of the rates used for paying the beneficiaries was not supported either.

The then Auditor General Edward Ouko told the Elephant that he could only conclude that the funds were unaccounted for as he was only provided with the documentation he referenced in the audit report.

Is it enough?

Even if the money were paid on time in every case, that doesn’t mean it’s always adequate for people living in the regions affected by severe droughts, floods, or locusts. According to a 2017 Report on the cost of diet analysis in Turkana county, the current cash transfer of Ksh 2,700 for very poor and poor households is not enough.

“Current cash income and available livestock products are not sufficient for a family to access a nutritious diet. Avenues should be explored to allow households to increase their means to access nutritious foods, such as food for work or vouchers,” the report says.

The report suggests that increasing the cash transfer for these groups to Ksh 10,000 a month would increase affordability, but would not be sufficient in closing the affordability gap. Poor infrastructure in Turkana is a barrier to gaining physical access to the foods, that there is sufficient diversity of foods in the region.

However, the frequency with which these foods are available to households and the quantity with which these can be found in the markets is likely to be an obstacle to achieving a nutritious diet. The report adds that better roads will also allow for more efficient transportation of fresh produce and, possibly, decrease the extent of food degradation and nutrient depletion due to heat and travel conditions.

The cash transfer program is intended to continue running for at least another four years. But while these transfer payments can help those in dire need during environmental shocks or as climate change creates ever harsher conditions, experts and reports argue this is just one small part of a larger need for an effective long-term solution.

This article was developed with support from the Money Trail Project

Continue Reading

Data Stories

Things Are Elephant: The Effect of COVID-19 in Nairobi Low-Income Areas

The full extent of the impact of the coronavirus crisis in Nairobi low-income areas is yet to be seen but as Juliet Atellah analyses, it will be important to track.

Published

on

Photo: Unsplash/Anshu A
Download PDFPrint Article

At least 30 percent of low-income earners have lost their jobs since the Government of Kenya placed restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 reveals a recently published report.

The report, titled Survey on the Covid-19 Global Pandemic in Nairobi’s low income Areas conducted by Trends and Insights for Africa (TIFA), a local research firm, found that at least 60 percent of those who have suffered loss of daily earnings claim that the restrictions should be lifted so that people can resume their normal economic activities even if this means the virus continues to spread. This is against a backdrop of increased desperation in many of these low-income neigbourhoods, which has strained resources in a least 75 percent of households, the report notes.

Social institutions and movement have not been spared either by the lockdown. According to the report, at least 66 percent of the respondents have been affected by the ban on travel into and out of the metropolitan and the imposition of the 1900 hrs to 0500 hrs curfew. James Mogaka, a resident of Kawangware told the Elephant that he has been unable to travel to his home county of Kisii to spend time with his family. He has not seen them since the regulations were enforced. As is the plight of Mogaka and many others, the report highlights that 57 percent of low-income earners are very worried on the continuation of the Nairobi travel ban and curfew and they advocate for the restrictions to be lifted so people can resume their normal activities.

Things Are Elephant: The Effect of COVID-19 in Nairobi Low-Income Areas
Increase in crime has been the major reason why over 80 percent of respondents are keen that the curfew and travel restrictions be lifted and economic activities continue. They are concerned about the future levels of crime due to the economic implications of the lockdown. When asked to corroborate this, Eunice Mwaniki, a resident of Huruma and mother of two, told The Elephant that she closes her vegetable business at 1600 hrs everyday because once dusk approaches, gangs of young men troll the streets pickpocketing and mugging citizens of their hard earned money. She emphasised that the last time she witnessed this kind of theft and daylight robbery was during the grim days of the Nyayo era when Nairobi was infamously christened “Nairobbery”

A majority of denizens are pessimistic that things will change and even bigger majorities are “very worried” about contracting the COVID-19 virus with the constant rise in the number of cases and deaths. Indeed, how such perceptions will change as the full extent of the impact of the virus crisis will be important to track moving forward, given the impact of such perceptions on actual behaviour, both related to the disease and the conditions of life more generally.

On 6th June 2020, a clear majority of respondents had hoped that the President would announce an end to both the travel ban and night curfew but what followed was only a reduction of the curfew period and a hinted policy posture to open up the country. As the country gets closer to 6th July 2020, the day the lockdown will likely be lifted; it is yet to be perceived what direction the government will take. What is clear, however, is that Kenyans are eagerly expecting a policy shift that will make their lives better.

Continue Reading

Trending