NAIROBI, Kenya — Located in Nairobi and home to an unknown number of people (estimates range from 170,000 to 2.5 million), Kibera has long been Kenya’s largest and most infamous slum. Most residents live in makeshift shacks made of mud and tin; half of them are unemployed. For the past several decades, authorities have paid little attention to Kibera and have done little to address its wide array of social problems. This past fall that finally changed.
In September, the government launched an initiative aimed at combatting poverty and raising living standards in Kibera. Many of the initiative’s programs focus on youth employment. Several training programs aim to train and employ young workers in different crafts and trades. Some people have been put to work growing and selling local produce while others are working on infrastructure projects, which are another important part of the initiative. In total, approximately 3,500 young men and women have been put to work since the program started.
The creation of these new jobs has injected more money into the local economy. Local merchants have seen a significant increase in sales and profits since the start of the program. This in turn has further increased employment opportunities as more people have opened new businesses and shops to take advantage of the increased demand.
A number of significant infrastructure improvements are also underway as part of the initiative, and are already making a difference. New roads are being built and paved to make it easier to get around the neighborhood and transport goods. Newly built water pipes and power lines have provided access to electricity and running water for the first time. For the time-being this is primarily confined to new public water stations and new streetlights. But workers are building new houses equipped with running water, electricity and clean sanitation for residents to live in. By the time the project is complete this will be the new norm.
Other infrastructure projects focus on improving sanitation, which has long been a serious problem in Kibera. Workers are working to unclog storm drains filled with garbage and human waste. Garbage trucks are driving on the newly built roads to collect trash. Communal toilets are being built. In the past, the lack of sanitation or access to clean water has caused serious health problems for Kibera residents, including many disease outbreaks.
Urban gardens are being planted to boost agricultural production. New police stations and health clinics are also being built. What was once a giant squatter’s settlement of makeshift housing is now being transformed into a real neighborhood, complete with roads, permanent housing, sanitation, utilities and public services. The program is expected to continue for several years. For the first time, the Kenyan government is taking action against extreme poverty, and the results are starting to show.
– Matt Lesso