A just recovery from COVID-19: youth speak out from eight African cities

As cities across Africa start to lift pandemic restrictions, youth speak out as they are hoping for a more equitable future. We report on a project that captured the perspectives of young people living in informal settlements in eight African cities.

*This article was originally posted on the International Institute for Environment and Development‘s Website and was authored by Dr Arabella Fraser.

Urban responses to the COVID-19 pandemic remain at a critical juncture. In sub-Saharan African cities, even as COVID-19 measures lift and ‘normal life’ resumes, interventions are still needed to address the enduring legacies of both the disease and responses to it. 

Some city governments are shifting policies towards more sustained support for livelihoods, social protection systems and greater social inclusion. This creates opportunities to build resilience to multiple risks and shocks, particularly in informal settlements.

Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under 25: its cities really are ‘cities of youth’. For young people, living in informal settlements during the pandemic brought distinctive concerns and exacerbated pre-existing structural inequalities around access to services and infrastructure which the youth speak out about in this report.

Read the full report here.

Many impacts were more pronounced than the direct effects of COVID-19: the loss of informal and formal employment opportunities, loss of educational opportunities and a loss of mobility, leading to social isolation and poor mental health. These were combined with exclusion from subsidies, loans and governance structures at all levels.

READ MORE: The world’s poorest have the strongest resilience, yet their voices remain unheard

From 2020 to 2021, young people in youth affiliates of Slum Dwellers International in Lagos, Freetown, Nairobi, Lusaka, Harare, Johannesburg, Gqeberha and Cape Town documented their experiences of the pandemic as part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council project led by the University of Warwick. Through video diaries and interviews, and focus group discussions, they communicated their perspectives on the pandemic and how to support their recovery and future resilience.

This work allows us to reflect from a youth perspective on a vision for transformative urban recovery that IIED produced in collaboration with urban stakeholders in 2020-21.

The IIED framework encompasses principles around governance for transformative recovery that addresses multiple risks. It includes decentralising finance; upholding rights and promoting social inclusion, including institutionalising the co-production of basic services; and supporting holistic interventions, such as climate-change adaptive social protection.

A call for inclusion

Marginalised by age as well as by living in informal settlements, these young citizens passionately echoed calls for action on their social and political exclusion. The youth speak out about the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns.

First, they supported the view advocated by IIED that community-based organisations are potentially more inclusive of marginalised groups, including youth. 

[caption id="attachment_13506" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Know Your City TV Zambia work with communities in Zingalume, Lusaka, Zambia (Photo: Loyd Siwila/SDI and KYCTV)[/caption]

They cited examples where grassroots organisations had provided invaluable support for young people, including training, mental health awareness-raising, and help with medicines and rent.

In one example of a single-purpose intervention with multiple benefits, the Kenyan government initiative Nyumba Kumi, a form of community policing, provided young people in Nairobi with opportunities to get involved in community-level decision-making about COVID-19 responses.

Practising participation in local governance

“The practice of participation matters.” – Youth from Lagos.

Second, young people requested enabling environments where their voices can be truly heard by those in power. As one youth in Lagos said: “The practice of participation matters.”

He noted that local councillors were supposedly representing the people, but contacting them was difficult – and often unrewarding: “Even when you meet them, they will just nod their head as if they’ve heard you, but most times they act to benefit themselves in one way or the other.”

Participants suggested requiring the representation of young people on government and civil society bodies and creating dedicated platforms for young people, alongside strengthening existing youth collectives and federations.

Using social media and bringing forums online could make them more accessible. Young participants want training in local governance and advocacy, including workplace and mentoring opportunities for leadership development. 

Opportunities for community service and employment

Youth speak out and played critical roles in their communities during the pandemic as students, entrepreneurs, caregivers, volunteers, breadwinners and local knowledge experts. They say their capacities could support social inclusion and holistic solutions, both for themselves and their communities. 

Some already work as volunteers, carrying out government surveys and registration drives, and argued they could do more via community involvement, including public health awareness-raising or driving mobile health clinics.

However, this should be paid work that supports their livelihoods – a principle that could be enshrined in co-produced initiatives for basic services and infrastructure. Co-producing services and infrastructure with young people brings distinct concerns, including providing mental health support in ways that avoid fear and stigma, and providing education through multiple means, including radio, TV and social media.

Finally, for young people caught between a lack of formal employment and the increased precarity of informal work, creating livelihood opportunities is paramount. This can tackle multiple risks alongside structural injustices.

Participants suggested that investing in skills development could include training on solar installation and green technologies, and on cultivating vegetable gardens for food security and resilience. Such initiatives need to be more sustainable and more accessible, however, if they are to have a real impact. 

What women want – part two: to map vulnerability to climate change


This article was originally published by IIED. 

By Sheela Patel, founder director of SPARC India and co-founder of SDI

This blog draws mostly on the experiences of SDI’s federations, (usually) formed by women’s savings groups. For members of these groups and their federations, exchange visits within their city or between cities – and internationally – have long been a key part of learning. This would include visits to cities where groups were mapping and collecting data on risk and vulnerability.

But when pandemic-related travel bans made in-person visits no longer possible, women learnt how to have digital conversations over the internet.

Five priority areas emerged. The four described in part one of this blog were: a roof over their heads; greens in their meals; women taking care of their own health; and ‘wheels and wages’, or the difficulties navigating increasingly unaffordabe transport options.

This blog discusses the fifth request from women – to be able to use their own knowledge and skills to map vulnerability to climate change.


Mapping benefits for everyone

Mapping and profiling informal settlements brings great benefits by guiding and informing responses to climate change risks. But just as importantly it benefits city government – if they support, engage and work with these women and their federations, both in mapping and data collection, and in developing responses. It also allows women to devise and agree their own strategies for change.

Examples of community-led mapping and profiling informal settlements include:

  • Across Kenya, within a 20-year history of the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers (Muungano wa Wanavijiji)
  • In Cuttack (India), mapping flood risks at city level
  • In Kisumu (Kenya), enumerating and mapping all informal settlements, and
  • In Epworth (Zimbabwe) using a geographic information system (GIS) for informal settlement upgrading.

Engaging the people who know best

Slum mapping and profiling is not easy. Residents often distrust the reasons given for collecting data, and the people who collect them. But this can be overcome by engaging residents from the start, including in the data collection.

SDI’s Know Your City campaign has engaged and supported slum profiling in thousands of informal settlements in 450 cities. The information gathered is added to SDI’s database.

In the last two years of working on climate change issues, SDI has tried to understand what brought women to the city, the challenges they face and where they live. An underlying driver of women moving to cities is their vulnerability to climate change, and being unable to find work in rural areas because of climate change’s negative impacts on agriculture and on rural populations.

In urban areas, the location where women squat is usually on land that was not in use because it was either next to a river or a dumping ground, or in some other way not suitable for habitation. Riverside settlements risked flooding while high-density informal settlements lacking public space created urban heat islands.

Now we must unpack the challenges that women face, understand how these are linked to climate vulnerability and build capacity, so women can deal with these challenges themselves. And we must address the ‘leaking bucket syndrome’ of constantly existing in survival mode to address these ever-present challenges.

So when women heard about the Race to Resilience campaign, it was something they understood very well. If they were supported to come up with robust solutions, it could help save their city, their families, and their communities.

It would also limit the depletion of valuable resources destroyed by disasters. It would improve their ability to climb out of the difficult conditions in which they were living, towards a better quality of life.

Communication is key

Women also realised that most city governments and communities were not in regular touch with each other. When disaster struck, there was no mutual, trusting relationship between them and the city, and urgent issues were not addressed.

But having a detailed vulnerability map of informal settlements is an effective way of grabbing the attention of local government. With a map, training communities and city officials, it was possible to develop a plan together to address different problems.

This would prove invaluable when identifying measures for disaster prevention and preparedness. Women immediately saw the benefits and are keen to explore this with other groups and federations across their networks.

Knowledge is power

The SDI network starts by exploring what women themselves can do. What are the simple questions they can ask themselves and each other to build up responses to help define the challenges and develop action plans. This revealed practices they are already doing, but which may have some frailties, and identified the actions they could do for themselves.

In the second phase, SDI approaches external partners for technical and financial support. Each federation presents their plan to their city government representatives to explore whether they can partner with them in the process.

But the most exciting aspect of these processes is that if communities outside SDI actively engage with these campaigns, they open up ways for grassroots advocacy to inform resilience.

Listening to those who are excluded and vulnerable, and trusting in their ability to define what they need, leads to solutions that are built around them. The outcome is new ways to engage a range of actors and stakeholders who can contribute to solutions that become the new normal.

My two blogs reflect on what women want, and we invite social movements, other networks and people who design solutions in health, housing, habitat, and data management, to join us.

Together we can develop capacities and skills to engage community networks to define areas of investigation. Solutions that deliver the needs and priorities of poor communities, neighbourhoods and especially for women – as identified by them – are possible.

Mbarara, Uganda: An informal community uses collective savings to deal with Covid-19

The slum dwellers in Mbarara city, Uganda are using collective savings to deal with the global pandemic and investing in new businesses. Sarah Nandudu reports

This is the fortieth in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN and was originally posted on the ICCCAD website. 

Mbarara city, located in south western Uganda, is the main municipality of Mbarara district and it is the largest urban center in western Uganda. The city is densely populated with low and medium income class population and just like other developing towns, Mbarara is experiencing a rapid growth of slums for example- Biafra, Kiyanja, Kirehe, Kijungu, and others. People living in slums are mainly day labourers and small scale business holders.

Slum dwellers are generally excluded from formal financial markets and are often forced to borrow money from money lenders who charge extremely high interest rates—creating a vicious cycle of debt and ever-deepening poverty.  Slum Dwellers International facilitates the economic empowerment of urban poor communities through direct support to local affiliates, such as the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) and their support NGO  ACTogether Uganda.

The Federation is a network of community savings groups that practice daily savings, while using their collective strength to improve the lives of urbanites who reside in six of Uganda’s growing municipalities – Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara, Kabale and Arua. Members save at least 100 shillings per day to this group and they loan to members, generally with interest but no collateral. These loans are usually for household and livelihood needs such as school fees, health care, and small business support. Such collective savings have helped the slum dwellers many times in upgrading their communities and have also come handy during the global pandemic.

Impacts of Covid-19 on slum dwellers of Mbarara

Katongole Deus is a boda boda (traditional African motorcycle taxi) rider who lives in Mbarara city. Deus has a family, a beautiful wife and one little boy of 7 years. He is a member of Abamwe group, one of the slum dwellers federation groups mapped in Kakiika, Rwemiyeje cell within Mbarara Municipality.

“I have been in the transport business for three consecutive years and like any other person I have been strongly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The transport sector was, among other sectors, locked down, as boda bodaswere deemed to be  risky operations that can easily transmit the virus. The announcement  of the ban on carrying  passengers definitely and automatically disrupted everything,” Deus says.

Although boda boda drivers were allowed to carry luggage, this alone was not sufficient to earn income that could sustain Deus’s standards of living and that of other family members, since the biggest percentage of his  income comes from carrying passengers.

“Before coronavirus, I used to earn 30,000 shillings (8.2 USD) per day, of that; 10,000 shillings was for my boss, 12,000 shillings for family activities and the rest was saved for school fees and other financial goals. I had great ambitions of buying my own motorcycle but unfortunately the process was disrupted and my ambitions received a great setback,” he laments.

Ibrahim is a market vendor with five children and two wives. He has a stall of shoes (both second hand and new ones) which he initiated long ago with a capital of approximately 500,000 shillings (137 USD). Ibrahim is also a saver in a family support initiative, which is one of the groups that are registered with the federation located in Kiyanja slum.

“Before this period I was earning an average profit of 70,000 shillings (19.1 USD) on a weekly basis. However, these profits multiplied during the festive season, when demand for shoes is high. My target for a long time has been stretching my profits to approximately 100,000 shillings per week and this is something that I have relentlessly been working on through saving and injecting more money in my business,” Ibrahim shares.

But Covid-19 has seriously blocked all Ibrahim’s income-generating plans. Market places where he operated were closed due to the lockdown instituted by the government, which has persisted for months. The lockdown forced all businesses to close and only market places were left for food vendors and this has greatly impacted his social-economic life. His daily meals were also reduced to one meal a day and basic services barely were met.

Using collective savings to tackle the crisis

To sustain life during the lock-down, both Deus and Ibrahim had to revert back to their savings groups. They had to channel the savings that were meant for future goals to the day-to-day demands of their families. But eventually they hope to use the savings in future endeavors as well.

In order to be financially stable in the face of future disasters, Deus is planning to start up a business for his wife (grocery) after the pandemic and boost family income. The pandemic has taught him a lesson to not depend on one business.

The lockdown has further forced Ibrahim to use the savings that he had put aside as a way of mitigating the effects of this pandemic. He wanted to start a merchandise shop using the savings but now, due to lack of capital, he has to suspend this intention.

But he is now exploring bricklaying as a new opportunity where he can generate some income. One of his friends has provided some space for starting the new project. This is a project that he hopes will complement his other business that has been constrained by the pandemic. He also hopes that it will help in multiplying his savings if the situation is settled.

“The saving is another discipline that we will reinforce, it has evidently illustrated its purpose during such times, and we will definitely carry on this with the federation and also encourage other people to join federation schemes” they conclude.

Interviewer’s Perspective

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a disproportionate impact on the people living in slums around the world as they already lack access to basic services. Volatile livelihood options and limited income have been further challenged and tested by the Covid-imposed lockdown. While they lack access to formal banking services, community-based savings groups have been the only resort for them to rely on. Though people like Deus and Ibrahim can meet their basic needs with the savings, and plan for investing on new endeavors based on their savings, such initiatives may not be sustainable due to lack of funds. Governments as well as non-government organisations should consider the plights of the urban poor differently and should invest more on providing financial security to them. Provision of formal banking services at subsidised interest rates can be one of the ways of dealing with the problem.

About the interviewer

Sarah Nandudu is the national coordinator of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. She is the Vice Chairperson of the movement and monitors the consolidation of plans and budgets from communities as well as the implementation of all Federation programmes across Uganda.


About the interviewees

Katongole Deus is a boda boda rider who lives in Mbarara city. He is a member of Abamwe group, one of the slum dwellers federation groups mapped in Kakiika, Rwemiyeje cell within Mbarara Municipality.

Ibrahim is a market vendor with 5 children and two wives. He is a member of a family support initiative which is one of the groups that are registered with the federation located in Kiyanja slum.

Call to international funders: address grassroots organisations’ priorities, not yours


This article was originally posted on the IIED blog.

By Sheela Patel 

As COVID-19 persists and spreads, urban poor organisations need funding that is flexible enough to meet the evolving needs of their communities.

This series of blogs focusing on the transition to a predominantly urban world began before COVID-19 took hold. The pandemic brings devastating current and future health and economic impacts, and demands our attention and commitment to work together to overcome it.

Here, Sheela Patel explains why saving groups supporting organisations of the urban poor need flexible funding to respond effectively to the many challenges emerging from the virus.


International agencies are failing to provide the support that organisations of the urban poor desperately need to fight COVID-19, and to cope with its devastating economic and social impacts. Few if any structure their support to match grassroots organisations’ needs for flexible funding.

So is international funding actually helping these grassroots organisations – including the thousands of savings groups that make up Slum Dwellers International – cope with COVID-19? Or to survive it? And to enhance and support the many roles these savings groups have in fighting the pandemic and reaching vulnerable groups?

You would think that savings groups would be perfect partners for international funders. They are organised, they can manage money, they are trusted, they have capacity, and they operate in the poorest urban communities.

When an international agency wants to help low-income communities in informal settlements, how do they decide on what will be funded, and by whom? It often takes weeks for the funding to arrive when what is needed is a rapid response.

And does the international funding address the local community’s needs? Does it understand roles of grassroots organisations in responding to COVID-19? Are they asking these organisations what form of external support would work best for them?

The growing pressures on savings groups

In the last six months, women’s collectives within SDI are facing very local crises of their own. Their most precious savings and loans programmes have completely collapsed. And with that, all the revolving funds that they built through repayment of loans. Regenerating it without external support will be next to impossible.

And as people move away from neighbourhoods, networks of the federations are beginning to collapse – some going to their rural kinship homes, others exploring other ways to earn.

Low-income residents with infectious or chronic diseases have difficulties accessing health care as hospitals and governments struggle to deal with the pandemic. Immunisation programmes are not reaching large sections of the population.

Women and girls are facing real hardship through so many changes. Many girls are not going to school, and experiencing an upswing in violence in households as deep depression and frustration take hold. Cases of rape and pregnancies in teenage girls are rising.

Most if not all cities in the global South are locked in their own crisis of how to pay sufficient attention to the challenges of the urban poor. Initially, money was available to help feed people. But reaching all those in need has become a continuous challenge, especially the most vulnerable households.

Flexibility to respond

So, what do the thousands of savings groups around the world need? The answer: flexible funds that enable these groups to respond quickly to their communities’ most pressing needs.

For some, this may be food; for others, medicine. Funds may be needed to help struggling community health facilities or to deploy safety patrols that help keep girls and women safe.

Without being able to anticipate what’s coming next, it’s hard for savings groups to write smart proposals requesting money for specific activities. What savings groups really need is to be able to focus on their own priorities, not those of international funders.

How the Youth are Leading the Way in Tackling COVID-19

This article was originally published by ICCCAD. Click here for the original post.

In Hatcliffe extension, an informal settlement located in the northern part of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a group of young people are leading the fight against the pandemic. They are  building awareness, adapting their businesses to promote hygiene and encouraging fellow young people to contribute to community well-being. Artwell Nyirenda reports.



Hatcliffe extension was once a holding camp for urban migrants coming from different parts of Harare. Young people between the age of 15 and 30 constitute a higher percentage of the community’s population. Social and economic challenges are prevalent in the area, as the young often get involved  in illegal activities for survival. The majority of Hatcliffe’s residents work in construction and informal trading, and few are formally employed.

Continuous expansion of the area has further exacerbated the challenges in accessing services, particularly water and sanitation. Communal boreholes are the only source of water, as tap water is not available. The community is struggling to meet the growing demand for water with a limited number of boreholes, many of which are dysfunctional, resulting in long queues for water collection.

News of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent safety protocols has added to the community’s existing fragilities. Waiting in a queue to collect water at communal boreholes is a daily reality for the residents of the Hatcliffe extension – increasing the risk of virus transmission. Until now, no positive cases have been found in the area. However, soon after hearing about COVID-19, everyone has been terrified to risk their lives while scrambling for scarce water. With the onset of the lockdown, naturally the demand for water has significantly increased and large crowds have gathered near the boreholes.

In Hatcliffe extension, the youth have always been at the forefront when it came to crisis management. Lonica Kenneth is a young female resident in the area, and a member of the Zimbabwe Young Peoples’ Federation (ZYPF), and its sub-group, Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group. ZYPF mobilises young people to influence positive change in their communities through documenting and sharing their lived experiences with relevant local authorities and other stakeholders.

The Metro Focus Detergents Filming Group is under the Safe and Inclusive Cities project, a youth-led project funded by Plan International, and consists of 20 members, including Lonica. Saving is encouraged within the group, and the members have been practising saving 10 bond notes (approximately USD 0.10) per week. They also make and sell liquid soaps, detergents, liquid gas and different arts and crafts. “The Safe and Inclusive Cities project has been an eye opener, as I have been made aware of opportunities to generate income, and participate in my community. I have realised I can make detergents that will help my family and community,” shares Lonica.

Screenshot 2020-10-13 at 15.16.39




With her own savings, Lonica began a detergent business in June 2019, producing and distributing liquid soap within her community. However, the lockdown has caused her business to suffer and Lonica has had to redesign her production strategy. “My business has declined since the lockdown as I was unable to purchase raw materials for production. But I also realised that there is a growing demand for soaps and sanitisers during this pandemic, and I really wanted to help my community members during this crucial time” says Lonica.

Along with the other members, Lonica identified an opportunity to boost their businesses and support their community during the crisis. She approached Safe and Inclusive Cities to finance her business. “Thanks to their support, I was able to produce sufficient liquid soaps. They helped me to buy the raw materials required for production,” Lonica adds. With increased sales, she is now saving 20 bond notes per week. Because of the high levels of poverty in her community, she sold the products at a very low price so that people can afford them. “We are also distributing hand washing buckets, sanitisers and soaps to community members who are most impacted,” Lonica further points out.

In addition to their businesses, Lonica and her group has also been involved in raising awareness of COVID-19 preventative measures . “My group has managed to distribute hand washing soaps near community boreholes to promote hygiene. We also influenced community leaders to regularly disinfect and monitor the water points to ensure safety. These public spaces have improved. Chaos is avoided as people adhere to protocols set by the leadership” she argues. The community youth members have also asked relevant government ministries for further training so they can disseminate information more accurately.

Hatcliffe extension residents are  fully cooperating in monitoring the water points and advocating for increased youth engagement. “First thing in the morning before anyone comes, I set out the drum, and the bucket with water and soap. Everyone must wash their hands before using the borehole handle. I also use sanitiser to disinfect the borehole handle, to ensure it is clean for everyone to use,” says Steven Nyamapfeka, a local leader in Hatcliffe.

“We are requesting outreach programmes on COVID-19 issues, as we don’t have enough information. If the virus spreads in this community, we will struggle to survive because we are not practising social distancing. More youth can be engaged to disseminate vital information,” shares Phillip Matamande, a member of the community. Residents have highlighted the need for masks and other protective gear, and the implementation of social distancing. They have also requested the Ministry of Health to increase the supply of chlorinated water.

Despite numerous hurdles, Lonica is hopeful that if the youth continue to work together, they will be able to overcome the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. “I am happy that I am able to play a role during this difficult time, and inspire young girls to lead initiatives for the betterment of our community. Together we can tackle the COVID-19 pandemic!” says Lonika.

Interviewers’ perspective

As we are witnessing during COVID-19, young people from around the world are being innovative and leading initiatives within their communities to tackle the global crisis. Lonica, and others like her, are taking steps to support their communities through active participation. They have been influencing and communicating with leaders in understanding the dynamics of their communities. It is important that the youth realise their potential and the crucial roles they can play within their communities and lead the way for a better, brighter future.

About the interviewer

Artwell Nyirenda is a program officer at Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless People in Zimbabwe. He is working with young people in slum settlements in documenting the daily experiences in their communities for advocacy purposes.

About the interviewees

Lonica Kenneth lives in Hatcliffe extension and actively participates in community development platforms and programs. Through her work, she has inspired many young people who have joined her in transforming their communities.

Steven Nyamapfeka, is a local elderly man living in the Hatcliff extension for several years. He is also the Secretary of the Water Committee of Hatcliff.

Phillip Matamande is a local community leader and vice chairperson of the Water Committee of Hatcliffe.

News Release: Cities Alliance supports SDI affiliates to address Covid-19 crisis



SDI is excited to announce the below partnership with Cities Alliance, supporting  SDI-affiliated federations in their work to fight COVID-19. This programme gives SDI, a long-standing member of The Cities Alliance, the opportunity to work closely with CA on this critical project, aligning the missions of our two organisations to respond to this important and unprecedented cause.

The Cities Alliance programme builds on the ongoing work of SDI-affiliated federations who, through a Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA), received emergency funding from SDI. This funding has supported affiliates to respond quickly to the effects of the COVID-19 in their communities, closing gaps not adequately addressed by government responses.

Over the course of our many years as members of The Cities Alliance we have endeavoured to ensure that SDI’s contribution seeks always to bring the voices and agency of slum dwellers to the centre stage. We are confident that this partnership will continue this effort and will ensure that the dynamism and innovative spirit inherent in SDI’s federations creates meaningful, lasting, and widespread impact in the cities where we work and in the global urban development agenda.

UPDATE: Cities Alliance published this update to the below press release on 30 July 2020. 


Cape Town, Brussels, 27 July 2020 – Cities Alliance is launching a new programme to support the global efforts in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, the purpose of the project is twofold: strengthen the resilience of communities in informal settlements and support the sustainability of civil society organizations, in cooperation with Slum Dwellers International – SDI; and reinforce the capacities of informal communities to respond to the current outbreak and better prepare for future crises.

The pandemic is having disastrous effects on families in informal settlements that are home to nearly a billion people. These communities have to contend with insecure property rights, low-quality housing, poor sanitation, and limited access to basic services, including health care. Common responses and general health regulations intended to limit the spread of COVID-related infections are a challenge for many slum dwellers. Humanitarian responses do not always reach them. Lockdowns and containment measures cause tremendous losses to livelihoods for families that already have limited or no access to social safety nets.

The new initiative is intended to support the needs of informal communities in 21 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Activities will be implemented primarily through existing community-based systems and networks.

“The current crisis has shown the vital need to scale up efforts of organised community networks to effectively tackle the pandemic, implement meaningful recovery plans and provide solutions in the long-run,” – William Cobbett, Director of Cities Alliance.

Against this background, and in line with its global partnership identity, Cities Alliance will award direct grants to local NGOs in support to federations of urban poor within the SDI network in Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, India, and the Philippines. The grants will be managed by Cities Alliance, while SDI will provide technical support to its affiliates.

“Slum dwellers federations, community groups, street vendors, and waste pickers associations are the frontline actors in the COVID response. We must sustain the civil society fabric in the settlements to solve the crisis. This programme is a great opportunity to do so,” – Joseph Muturi, Chair of the SDI Management Committee.

The second component of the project combines the implementation of COVID-19 prevention and protection measures with initiatives to reduce the social and economic impacts of the epidemic. The activities will be carried out under the common United Nations framework for COVID-19 response, in collaboration with networks of Civil Based Organisations, including slum dwellers and informal workers’ groups in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Liberia, and Uganda.

The activities comprise the distribution of personal protective equipment and hygiene materials, the provision of water and sanitation facilities and the delivery of community awareness and outreach campaigns in slums, together with advocacy, learning and knowledge exchange at regional and global level, engaging Cities Alliance members.

The EUR 3 million initiative will be implemented over a period of 12 months.


UPDATE: Cities Alliance published this update to the below press release on 30 July 2020. 

New narratives for a ‘new normal’

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 11.20.20


This post originally featured on the IIED blog. 

By Sheela Patel and Suranjana Gupta

Sheela Patel and Suranjana Gupta report that women at the grassroots are generating practical responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Their effectiveness in this crisis highlights the importance of including grassroots women in climate change planning.

Megan Rowling of the Thomson Reuters Foundation deserves at least half the credit for this piece. In a recent webinar on how grassroots groups are responding to the coronavirus, she called us out for using the ‘same old tired narratives’ presenting women as either ‘vulnerable’ or as ‘active agents’, leading us to reflect on why we use this language and to unpack some of the ideas behind these words.

Having worked with many grassroots women’s groups hit by major disasters, the Huairou Commission has seen repeatedly how organised grassroots women have dealt with disasters to get communities back on their feet. For instance:

  • In the most remote parts of Honduras, where no assistance reached communities for days after Hurricane Mitch, indigenous women fed their families bread made of an indigenous root that survived the floodwaters. The same group went on to create seed banks to revive indigenous crops and agricultural tool banks to restore farming.
  • In Turkey, earthquake-hit women monitored relief distribution and negotiated to improve sanitation and food in relief camps. They went on to organise women’s cooperatives that now run a country-wide network of women and children’s centres.
  • In India, grassroots women in earthquake-affected areas became communication assistants to the government, going door-to-door disseminating information on the housing reconstruction programme, and reported back to government on implementation problems.
  • In the Philippines, grassroots groups hit by Typhoon Haiyan initially monitored relief distribution in partnership with the national government and later created housing tool banks jointly managed with local government.

For nearly two decades now, Huairou Commission has supported hundreds of grassroots leaders from many countries – including Honduras, Jamaica, Turkey, India, Uganda, Zambia, Indonesia and Philippines – to travel within and outside their countries sharing practices, mentoring and advising their peers on reducing impacts of disaster and climate change.

What’s more, such exchanges have attracted the attention of local and national government agencies, getting them to recognise and legitimise grassroots women’s organisations.

At policy forums (particularly those focused on reducing disaster impacts), despite leadership roles played by grassroots women, they were conspicuously absent and persistently described as a ‘vulnerable group’, alongside children, the elderly and the disabled.

Paradoxically, women are caregivers to the other three groups. Like women, each of the other three groups offers valuable insights to address crises.

Despite the problems with bundling the four groups together, it has helped humanitarian efforts to considerably step up their responses to the special needs of these groups. But their narratives around vulnerability and responses to them essentially remain short term. They rarely examine the processes that impoverish and weaken the capacities of communities to withstand the onslaught of disasters in the first place. And the predominant narrative remains one in which women are cast as a vulnerable group, placing grassroots women-led scalable solutions in policymakers’ blind spot.

Promoting networks, partnerships and recognition

Social movements like the Huairou Commission, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and WIEGO have consistently challenged this perspective. Years of investment in grassroots women’s movements have steadily built on grassroots initiatives – refining their practices, scaling them up through peer exchanges and government engagements – persuading governments to listen, learn and partner with grassroots organisations.

Can the COVID-19 crisis be an opportunity to mainstream such partnerships? Can the new normal we envisage turn grassroots-government partnerships into the ‘rule’ rather than the exception to it?

Grassroots movements play a critical role in collectivising grassroots groups through peer exchanges. Exchanges allow grassroots women to share practical knowledge, tell stories and build solidarity and even demonstrate how their leadership is recognised by local government.

This process of aggregation gradually elevates accidental initiatives, turning them into innovations which then coalesce to become scalable solutions. The consolidation of each solution lays the foundation for the next set of explorations.

Where there are responsive administrators or politicians, grassroots-government engagements can create an upsurge of collaborative action, pulling together grassroots and state resources to make concrete improvements in the lives of the poor, dramatically changing how women are perceived.

This kind of transformation, however, takes time. It can’t be accomplished through three-year projects. Resilience investments need to be long term. They have to produce a diversity of solutions to counter multi-generational deprivation and negligence that endangers the lives, livelihoods and wellbeing of economically and socially marginalised communities.

It is therefore vital to sustain community networks and maintain their visibility as drivers of development. As movements and networks gain public recognition, they are able to attract  an array of allies, expanding their reach to ensure that new investments produce lasting changes in the everyday lives of poor communities.

How grassroots women are delivering pandemic responses

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 11.20.34


Grassroots organisations’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are building on years of organising, learning and collective problem-solving. When governments announced lockdowns, grassroots women acted swiftly, putting to work their relationships with each other and with government; and drawing on collective resources built over time.

  • In the Philippines, grassroots leaders reached out to their networks in 24 rural barangays (districts) to disseminate information to educate communities on COVID-19. In informal settlements in the national capital, women-led water cooperatives used their savings to buy food for distribution.
  • In Nepal, women’s cooperatives coordinated with local governments and municipalities to distribute relief and community resilience funds managed by women’s cooperatives were drawn upon to give livelihoods restoration loans.
  • In India, women’s federations worked with village councils to distribute relief. They surveyed villages to identify those most in need of assistance and have already supported more than two thousand households to claim government entitlements. As early as March 2020, predicting food shortages, grassroots women encouraged their peers to plant vegetables. Three months later, vegetables from kitchen gardens are ensuring that families have nutritious food.
  • In SDI federations in several countries, including India, Kenya, South Africa Nigeria, Malawi and Zimbabwe, explored many possibilities based on stories of mask-making, soapmaking, quarantine management and food distribution – exchanged by their peers.

Are grassroots women driving these initiatives also victims of the crisis? Are they vulnerable to discrimination or exclusion?

Of course they are. But as movements focused on empowering grassroots women, we choose to emphasise grassroots women’s leadership as the foundation upon which their collective power is built.

When women are classified as ‘vulnerable’ they tend to become disempowered voiceless entities, excluded from decision-making. When we see grassroots women as drivers of change, we turn the spotlight on their innovations and contributions. And we can clearly see the value of involving them in public planning and decision-making.

So whether it is managing the COVID-19 crisis today or forging new pathways to adapt to the changing climate, shifting the narrative to focus on grassroots women’s agency is already a crucial step in the right direction of constructing new narratives for a new normal.


Sheela Patel is the founder and director of SPARC India and former chair of the SDI Board. Suranjana Gupta is advisor on community resilience at the Huairou Commission. 

Community Based Organisations are Key to Covid-19 Response


In this article, which originally appeared on the Sanitation & Water for All website, one of SDI’s co-founders and former chair of the SDI Board, Sheela Patel, highlights some of the notable responses to the Covid-19 pandemic – and resulting lockdowns – by SDI-affiliated federations of the urban poor.


To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the two major guidelines are practicing social distancing and washing your hands with soap or use sanitizers. This directive could come across as an additional precautionary step in the lives of many. However, for several communities (especially those living in informal settlements) in the developing countries, these directives are challenging to follow.

We spoke to Shamim Banu Salim Sheikh, a member of Mahila Milan (a self-organized, decentralized collective of female) living in Mumbai slum about her community and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, “we try and tell other people that they should keep their hands clean, houses clean, don’t sneeze or cough in public places. But all these things are for rich people and not poor people like us. In this area most of the people have at least 7 to 8 members in their houses, how are you going to tell them they should not sit together or keep distance between each other?” Through a video message, Alice Wanini, a community health volunteer (CHV) in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi, told SDI how difficult it is to encourage preventative measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing in overcrowded slums, where 10 sqm shacks house families of ten or more and long lines at handwashing stations leave people frustrated.

This is the reality for almost 1 billion people living in informal settlements –between 30-70% of inhabitants in some cities–pandemics exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities, such as inequalities  in  access  to  water,  sanitation  and  hygiene  services, loss of livelihood for daily-wage earners, precarity of underlying conditions such as respiratory ailments, water-borne diseases, life-style diseases associated with poor nutrition and substance abuse.  As COVID-19 cases spiked around the world, stringent lockdown measures were put in places, thereby making community leaders or community based organizations as the first responders. In Sierra Leone, Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and their support NGO, the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) has been involved in the fight against COVID-19 in their localities within Freetown Municipality, which is the epicenter of the pandemic. The prevention and mitigation response undertaken by the FEDURP are as follows:

  • Development of case monitoring app (Freetown Informal Settlement Covid-19 Data – Fiscovidata) and mobilization of community volunteers to focus on the case and incident reporting,
  • Development of sensitization messaging materials such as posters, handbills, and videos: FEDURP consulted various messaging materials developed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The contents of these materials were then customized to reflect the realities of slums and informal settlements. Engagement in community sensitization,  through direct community outreach and using various social media platforms to share videos and radio discussion,
  • Provision of veronica buckets (for hand washing) and face masks,
  • Working closely with settlement-based local chiefs to enforce government regulations and practices,
  • Engagement with state and local authorities to enhance government response to needs of informal settlements: Working with Freetown City Council to support a community kitchen targeting three extremely vulnerable communities targeting people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, pregnant girls and female- headed households with multiple dependents.

In Malawi, 75% of the urban population live in informal settlements (National Statistical Office, 2018). The Malawi SDI Alliance has made the following progress in supporting informal settlements with information on COVID-19:

  • All 35 federation groups in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu now have hand washing equipment. Cities were prioritized because that’s where the first cases were reported. Federation savings groups continue to meet and conduct their savings, loans and group entrepreneurial activities in compliance with government regulation.
  • The Malawi Alliance worked with the Lilongwe District Health Office to spread Covid-19 awareness messages to 10 informal settlements in Lilongwe City (population roughly 30,000) using a public address system that can effectively reach large numbers of people.
  • Community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe City were capacitated with knowledge and skills on how to disseminate COVID-19  messages to their communities.
  • Media efforts carried out by Malawi Know Your City TV team to raise awareness with youth, including the production of 6 short videos depicting how COVID-19 has affected the informal trader, the girl child, and other vulnerable groups in informal settlements.

Through this overarching narrative on community action during pandemics, I want to highlight that lockdown means local adaptation–community members and leaders are the first respondents. Yet, their contribution remains invisible and unspoken. These community leaders are most trusted and what they say is taken seriously by the people. Unfortunately, the government do not include their ideas, suggestions or solutions in planning and response. Unless there is a two-way trust between providers and affected communities, and the voices of the most marginalized are not heard, the crucial support and assistance in lockdown will not happen.

I cannot stress enough, when the nation-state puts people in lockdown, there is an urgent need to ensure that they have access to food items and basic care. People are ENTITLED to these basic services, showing “beneficiary” labelled photos of people receiving food is not acceptable. Informal settlements are not receiving the aggressive support that they need, especially, in bringing the livelihoods for informal dwellers and removal of past deficits like poor water and sanitation.

The SWA global partnership has a unique role in this crisis and for creating a post-COVID world, first, by mobilizing its partners, especially governments to take an urgent and much-needed action to provide water and sanitation services in both urban and rural areas. Secondly, using its convening power to strengthen in-country inclusive partnerships to enhance liaison between government and all the relevant key stakeholders, especially the community based organisations (CBOs). Not just during this crisis situation, but also ensuring that the voices of CBOs are also reflected in the advocacy plans of national CSO networks. We all need to keep reminding each other that public health emergencies, such as COVID-19 and gradually building disaster of climate change now demand that we BUILD BACK BETTER.

Community-led COVID-19 Response: Philippine’s Homeless People’s Federation

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By Rolando A. Tuazon and Theresa Carampatana

Originally featured on the IIED blog: https://www.iied.org/community-led-covid-19-response-work-philippines-homeless-peoples-federation

Based on member interviews and accounts, the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation describes how community organizations have rallied to support vulnerable groups, hit hardest by the pandemic.

This blog describes how the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation (HPFPI) has responded to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The Federation has over 9,000 members in 106 communities in 14 cities and towns throughout the Philippines. It brings together low-income community organizations to find solutions to problems relating to land, housing, income, infrastructure, health and welfare. Its work is supported by The Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives, Inc (PACSII).

The blog draws on responses to a questionnaire conducted by federation community leaders, and a teleconference where experiences from the ground — Batasan, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Muntinlupa, NCR,  Rodriguez-Rizal and Valenzuela — were shared.

Planning the response

[caption id="attachment_13143" align="alignleft" width="225"]Surveying needs in Manila. Surveying needs in Manila.[/caption]

Initial plans from HPFPI leaders (local, regional and national) included:

  • Identifying the communities’ most vulnerable people and updating community databases with member information. With this data, leaders could prioritize getting help for the homeless and others in greatest need including the elderly, children and people with disabilities
  • Deploying immediate interventions to help prevent the spread of the virus and minimize impacts of the lockdown
  • Coordinating and partnering with government and non-government institutions
  • Setting up a communications network to support member coordination across regions and cities
  • Since many banks were closed, supporting the transfer of funds to regions. At the start of the lockdown, each region used their savings to finance their community operations but these soon ran low.

Preventing the virus spread

[caption id="attachment_13137" align="alignleft" width="300"]Community quarantine in Mindanao. Community quarantine in Mindanao.[/caption]

Information on TV and radio made people aware of how to contain the virus. Federation leaders worked to get this information out to everyone, while also trying to prevent ‘fake news’ circulating. Information sharing must observe social distancing rules; meetings are not allowed.


People complied with the information as follows:

  • Blocking off whole areas to prevent movement
  • Applying social distancing and wearing face masks
  • Observing national curfew (8pm – 5 am)
  • Using quarantine passes to buy food – one per family member and for those working on the frontline
  • All observing home-stay, senior citizens most strictly
  • Promoting good hygiene such as hand washing
  • Medical check-ups when virus symptoms develop
[caption id="attachment_13140" align="alignnone" width="750"]Handwashing station in Iloilo. Handwashing station in Iloilo.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_13142" align="alignleft" width="300"]Making masks and food packs in Mindanao. Making masks and food packs in Mindanao.[/caption]

Community leaders have helped keep community members disinfected, distributing soap and alcohol cleanser. Some have built communal washing facilities or purchased thermal scanners that can detect the virus. Some are making washable masks because it is now more difficult to get these from the stores.


Local government has also been disinfecting public markets and other commonly used areas.

Practical help

[caption id="attachment_13141" align="alignleft" width="300"]Making food packs in Manila. Making food packs in Manila.[/caption]

External aid agencies were slow to respond and initially, funding to support the homeless came mainly from community savings and the HPFPI’s disaster fund.

Federation leaders bought food in bulk and packaged it up for distribution to each family.

The packs include 3-5 kg of rice, canned sardines, instant noodles, biscuits and coffee. In some cases, packages included baby milk, medicines and vitamins. 

Families often share their food with neighbours, especially those in greater need. Some have set up community kitchens and communal gardens with backyard and vertical gardening.

Community leaders have been coordinating with local government to get those infected to hospital or community health centres. Preventive measures implemented in the communities have paid off: there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in most areas with community associations.

Working with government

The government’s strict quarantine policy makes it hard for HPFPI to mobilise the community response. So, the federation has been working with government agencies to identify the most vulnerable members, distribute relief goods and cash, repackage goods for the poorest, and carry out health monitoring. Local government units often find it easier to implement their programs when working with organizations such as HPFPI.

Mobilising funds and resources

As the lockdown was enforced, people lost their income almost overnight. They needed money to buy food but the government response was slow and when help did arrive, provisions were inadequate. 1kg of rice, 1 can of sardines and 1 pack of instant noodles was meant to provide for a family for a week. Some families would receive a second package, often with more items.

National government announced payments of 5,000 – 8,000 pesos for each family, but more than half did not receive it.

Funding from Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) has been supporting HPFPI’s work in each region but it has proved difficult to get the bank to actually transfer the funds. Some members benefitted from support from development organisation Caritas.

Because of the enormity of the needs of our sizeable membership, PACSII is seeking funds from local sources. 1.5 million pesos (30,000 USD) have been donated by individuals and local companies.

Challenges brought by COVID-19…

The lockdown prevents people moving, working, planning, organizing and travelling to access resources. But community leaders found ways round this and managed to coordinate with government, often through the internet and digital meetings.

The government’s home-stay policy is particularly challenging with the harsh living conditions many face. Young people find the confinement tough, and some have violated quarantine rules.

Overall, the government was ill-prepared: resources and the mechanisms to distribute them were insufficient. In adequate health systems has led to a health crisis that will, almost certainly, give way to an economic crisis.

…but some good things too

The massive drop in transport emissions has reduced air pollution significantly. The lockdown has offered more opportunities for family bonding, community solidarity and nurtured a general feeling of unity. People have also found their faith is stronger, with a deeper appreciation of God and His providence. Some communities have organized common time for prayers.


An effective crisis response draws on the efforts of many. The government quickly found it could not prevent the spread of the virus, or adequately address its impacts, without cooperation from everyone.

Similarly, community organizations found they could work at scale and with greater impact when their work was supported by government. Updated baseline community data for community mapping was fundamental for getting help to the most vulnerable areas.

Finally, the challenge of accessing funds, particularly in the early stages of lockdown, made clear the need for an emergency fast-response fund to help manage future disasters and crises.

Theresa Carampatana is president of the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines; Rolando A. Tuazon is Executive Director of PACSII 

[caption id="attachment_13144" align="alignleft" width="212"]Theresa Carmpatana, HPFPI Theresa Carmpatana, HPFPI[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13139" align="alignleft" width="275"]Fr. Rolando A. Tuazon, PACSII Fr. Rolando A. Tuazon, PACSII[/caption]

Sierra Leone SDI Alliance Response to Covid-19


[video width="640" height="352" mp4="https://sdinetorg-1c78b.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/WhatsApp-Video-2020-06-02-at-4.04.05-PM.mp4"][/video]


Nearly three months since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Sierra Leone, the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and their support NGO the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) reflect on actions taken to date and the challenges that still lie ahead in taking action against this pandemic.


This report provides narrative on how FEDURP has been involved in the fight against COVID-19 in their localities within Freetown Municipality, which is the epicentre of the pandemic. Their involvement has been driven by the institutional response strategy developed in collaboration with Freetown City Council (FCC). This strategy was generated using feedback and experiences of FEDURP and community volunteers actively involved in various activities to help prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus in their respective localities.


In early April 2020, FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted and put together a COVID-19 response plan as the pandemic was close to getting its way into Sierra Leone from the two neighboring countries of Liberia and Guinea. This plan constituted the following thematic pillars:

  • Leverage existing partnerships with local authorities, such as Freetown City Council, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and clear lines of communication between government and communities;
  • Adapt and deliver initiatives formulated within the national policy framework;
  • Monitoring of community dynamics, including livelihood activities and movement of people in and out of their settlements; and,
  • Enhancing contact tracing of suspected or positive cases within their communities.

To ensure that our strategy was better informed and relevant, it also capitalised on FCC’s COVID-19 response framework with three strategic pillars, namely;

  • Behavior change messaging,
  • Behavior change support, and,
  • Isolation and containment support.

These two foregoing strategic pillars incidentally aligned with the strategic objectives of the SDI network with respect to Covid-19, namely;

  • To provide community owned and validated settlement profile and mapping data to inform co-developed preparedness and response plans including logistics;
  • Settlement level enablement of co-owned humanitarian assistance responses by means of leveraging existing social and political capital as a way to build two-way trust between providers and affected populations; and,
  • To engage in monitoring and advocacy activities at settlement and city level in order to minimize threats of evictions and counterproductive closures of essential informal services during periods of lockdown or protracted national emergency.

Hence, the actions of FEDURP included; i) mobilization of community volunteers to focus on case and incident reporting; ii) development of sensitization messaging materials such as posters, handbills, and videos; iii) engagement in community sensitisation through direct community outreach and using various social media platforms to share videos and radio discussion; iv) provision of veronica buckets (for hand washing) and face masks; v) work with settlement-based local chiefs to enforce government regulations and practices; and, vi) engagement with state and local authorities to enhance government response to needs of informal settlements.

Prevention Response

  • Development of behaviour change messaging and information, education and communication (IEC) materials:

FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted various messaging materials developed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS). The contents of these materials were customised to reflect the realities of slums and informal settlements. The messaging materials developed included visuals (posters and handbills) and audio-visuals (videos). This was done in collaboration with FCC and community health workers working in community health centres located in the informal settlements.  The videos were done by the KYC TV team. One of the videos was done with the mayor in one of the slums (Susan’s Bay) emphasing the importance of handwashing and social distancing.

  • Provision of handwashing facilities:

Five communities were supported with veronica buckets and soap which were located at strategic locations within communities. These provided facilities for handwashing, which helps to stimulate and enhance behaviour change in communities. Given that hand washing is the most basic practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the provision of these items has increased people’s awareness about handwashing practices as an important element to preventing the spread of the virus. These stations are monitored by young community volunteers to enforce the practice for passers-by and to replenish the water and soap.

WhatsApp Image 2020-06-02 at 3.45.33 PM

  • Production and provision of face masks:

1,250 face masks were produced by tailors who are members of FEDURP. 250 were directly distributed to community volunteers and 1,000 contributed to the 60,000 mask target set by the FCC to support vulnerable population in slum and informal settlements. 

  • Community sensitization and propagation of messaging:

Community volunteers drawn from the community-based disaster management committees (CDMCs) and FEDURP key participants engaged in community outreach activities, organising community and one-on-one sensitisation drives and distributing the posters and handbills containing customised messages that respond to the realities of slums and informal settlements.

Mitigation Response

  • Working with FCC to reach out vulnerable population with food items during lockdown:

The federation worked with FCC to support a community kitchen targeting three extremely vulnerable communities namely, Cockle Bay (in the west end of Freetown), CKG (central), and Old Wharf (east end) targeting people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, pregnant girls and female headed households with multiple dependents. This is to mitigate hunger for these categories of people who are limited to sourcing livelihood opportunities. Without such support, they are exposed to reinforced marginalisation and increase their exposure to contracting the virus and/or decreasing the chances of survival if they get exposed to the virus.

  • Engagement with authorities to enhance support to informal settlements:

The situation of slums and informal settlements remains largely ignored by state institutions in responding to COVID-19. FEDURP volunteers have been engaging particularly with the Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security (ONS) in which they responded by providing materials to these localities. Nevertheless, FCC has been quite responsive to the needs of slums and informal settlements. With focus on COVID-19, the engagement has also brought into view environmental disasters as the rains that are about to start, which often leads to massive seasonal and tidal flooding, rock or mud falls, landslides and more. There are speculations that if preparedness actions are not taken now before the rains set in it may beset the preventive measures and escalate the spread of the virus. Hence, the federation is pushing for environmental disaster preparedness. Another issue of concern is the militaristic approach to effecting quarantine actions in slums and informal settlements compared to formal or built up neighbourhoods. This has resulted in resistance and mistrust between communities and law enforcement. FEDURP therefore found it critical to encourage the relevant authorities to adopt more humane and civil methods.

  •  Development of case monitoring app (Freetown Informal Settlement Covid-19 Data – Fiscovidata)

This app has been initiated to ensure that incidents and issues emerging in slums and informal settlements are captured and reported so that their situation are not sidelined and to serve as the basis to inform key stakeholders about the realities of these localities. This was done in consultation with FCC capturing the perspectives of all parties. It also provides opportunities for the participants to improve data collection skills and sensitivity to the needs and realities of their settlements. (See the link: https://datastudio.google.com/reporting/e5255d5d-6553-49fa-b286-e46c49d296a4)

  • Case and incident reporting:

This initiative constituted 126 data collectors spread across the 68 slums and informal settlements in which 48 are attached to the FCC ward-level community engagement structure using the aforementioned app, Fiscovidata, to collect and report cases and other incidents. Two levels of data analysis are done, i) community level data analysis that reflects the 68 settlements; and, ii) ward level in which incidents from these communities and other neighbourhoods within a ward are compiled to reflect the ward for sole purpose of FCC. Collecting and reporting on the cases and related incidents is important to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, as it helps to inform stakeholders of necessary actions that may address the needs of slum dwellers and informal settlers.

  • Networking with State and Non-State Agencies

The fight against COVID-19 requires collaborative actions to build synergies and maximize the use of limited resources in the face of this global pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) has been responsible for designing appropriate IEC materials as well coordinating the provision of health services nationwide, including COVID-related mitigation and curatives. As such, messages we customized were derived from the approved MoHS resource base. At the same time, development and enforcement of protocols, procedures, and practices are undertaken by the Emergency Operational Centre (EOC). This has remained quite centralized, even though attempts are being made to decentralize its operations, making it difficult for CSOs to efficiently interact with the centre.

Collaboration with FCC has continued in order to maximize the provision of services and support. FEDURP/CODOHSAPA undertakes community mobilization and organisation as well as providing necessary data to inform FCC’s actions and service provision. This synergy tends to reinforce the recognition of slum and informal settlements as part of the municipal constituents, which by all indication precludes any foreseeable forced eviction in the course of the current situation.

FEDURP’s engagement with ONS saw additional provision of hand washing facilities in a few settlements and involved discussions on how both partners can begin to work on the actions to mitigate environmental disaster as rainy season is just setting in now.

A consortium including CRS, FCC, FEDURP/CODOHSAPA, CARITAS Freetown and Sierra Leone Red Cross has been constituted to seek funding from EU. By all indications, there is the possibility to win this grant which will target the slum dwellers and informal settlers, and special trade and socio-economic groups such as Traders and Market Women Council, Bike Riders Association, Tricycle (Kekeh) Drivers Union and Motor Drivers Union.

We are also working with ARISE partners to finalise and roll out the concept on our collaboration on the fight against COVID-19. This will focus on the following objectives:

  • Improved community capacity to respond and mitigate the spread and contagion of COVID-19 in slums and informal settlements in Freetown;
  • Enhance government’s COVID-19 response and mitigation priorities to reflect the needs of slums and informal settlements; and,
  • Improve structures and practices for the collection and documentation of experiences and learning of COVID-19 response and mitigation interventions in slums and informal settlements


Some of the challenges we have faced include the following:

  • The centralized approach poses the challenge of efficiently engaging with Emergency Operational Centre (EOC);
  • There are huge needs, particularly in slums and informal settlements, but limited funding to respond adequately;
  • Mixed messages has resulted in the emergence of myths and misconceptions in communities and the society generally about the Covid-19 virus;
  • Periodic full and partial lockdowns seriously affect the livelihoods of slum dwellers and urban poor communities, as most are daily wage earners living on a hand-to-mouth basis. This is reinforced by the increase in the cost of food stuff caused by the ban on inter-district vehicular movement, which in turn affects movement of local food stuff from the rural areas where local food stuff are grown and at same time affect the marketing stock of the market women sellers.

Lessons Learned

Some of the lessons learned include:

  • Our experiences from the Ebola outbreak was a capital for the government and local actors to draw from to design and plan for the fight against COVID-19.
  • Ebola attracted a lot of funding from international partners, but the emergency of COVID-19 as a global pandemic attracted less support globally, which is an indication that nations across the globe were busy fighting their own scourge.
  • The need for community participation has become even more important, as restriction on movement and enforcement of social distancing precludes others from directly supporting local actions.
  • COVID-19 has stimulated ingenuity and creativity, such as the local fabrication of hand washing stations and face mask.
  • COVID-19 has registered the urgent need for our government to invest in our health and other essential infrastructures as the ban on international flights has limited all of us (rich and poor, governors and the governed) to use our local health facilities as they have no second option of traveling abroad.

Next Steps 

As the Sierra Leone SDI Alliance, we have identified the following as critical next steps:

  • Focus sensitisation on myths and misconceptions.
  • Data collection and incident reporting continues.
  • Continue engagement with partners to seek other funding opportunities.
  • FEDURP and volunteers to strengthen community monitoring efforts in collaboration with respective resident local chiefs.
  • Continue engagement with state and non-state actors to strengthen synergies and enhance support to slums and informal settlements