Although cities are popularly seen to be places of inclusion and participation, they can also be places of exclusion and marginalisation, introducing a duality of purpose. Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable is one of the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to eradicate poverty, protect the environment and the planet as well as improve lives for all. Ultimately, formation and sustainability of smart cities is possible where the government takes the lead in coordinating these sustainable development goals. A good starting point is in the digitisation efforts.
During this world-wide Covid-19 pandemic, marginalised groups (groups characterised by low human capital, low formal employment and poor access to housing and utilities) in cities and urban disadvantaged groups where deprivation is most severe, have been hit the hardest. As a result, there is an urgent need to expand and improve emergency food assistance and social protection programmes which directly impact these groups. It is often said that governments should not waste a good crisis.
The Covid-19 crisis presents a golden opportunity for smart cities to truly demonstrate and inculcate a culture of inclusion, leaving no one behind, if everyone is to benefit from urbanisation and the concept of smart cities
Data is important for smart cities to function effectively
Smart cities heavily rely on data. One of the major barriers to meeting the needs of marginalised groups in cities is the lack of reliable data. This is why the census conducted in Kenya in 2019 is so important as it provides good data which can be leveraged to provide a better understanding of the population, its diversity and social demographics. Such an understanding helps the government and other organisations to better utilise and allocate their scarce resources in a more targeted way.
In addition, county governments through Members of County Assembly (MCAs), the national government through Members of Parliament, local administration such as chiefs, assistant chiefs and community leaders should assist in identifying areas within the cities that are disadvantaged along pre-defined criteria. Without such reliable data and information, it is impossible to achieve equity in the distribution of critical resources within the cities.
There are two major sub-types of smart cities marginalised communities in Kenya.
Ghetto areas of low‐quality blocks of flats - The main challenges include massive overcrowding, fear of being evicted from housing due to overdue debts (for tenants of social housing) and missing/ overdue payments for utilities (electricity, water, sewage, and garbage collection).
Slum areas and or improvised shelters - The main challenges for these areas include extreme poverty, less than ideal housing conditions, lack of identification documents, legal documents and lack of visibility on the exact number of inhabitants.
According to the challenges noted in the last census in Kenya, due to these limitations, even census enumerators were only able to obtain data from a part of the population.
How can we respond to needs of these category of people?
In the absence of smart cities in Kenya, there are structures that can be leveraged to cater for the needy in times of crisis such the Covid-19 and other recurring disasters such as floods and drought. The World Food Programme for example, has effective value chain interventions that optimise food distribution, maintain supply and bulk storage of supplies to cushion a crisis in the short-term. Some of these measures are existence of trucks and established road networks for transport, existence of storage sites for food supplies and setting up multiple locations within the same area for food distribution in order to combat crowding when it comes to food distribution.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) and other organisations with the necessary infrastructure such as silos to store dry foods too can be leveraged in responding to the needs of citizens.
During this pandemic crisis, there is a strain on food supply chains, with the on-going heavy rains adding to the difficulties of getting produce from farms to consumers. Consequently, there is a need to ensure the supply of staple commodities is functioning well, with crops/foods transported to where they are needed most. Such effective measures provide a buffer to assist the most vulnerable persons to comply with the stay-at-home requirements. Where smart cities don’t exist, responding to the crisis such as the current pandemic can be a challenge. Not long ago, a stampede was witnessed at a well-intended food distribution drive in one of the slums in Nairobi. As residents forced their way to get to food donations, injuries were experienced in addition to violation of the social distancing directives. . As a result of this, the government has put restrictions on food distribution where any person or organisation willing to donate food and other essential materials during this pandemic is required to do so through the Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund.
Massive layoffs, unpaid leave and strain in the economy have left families struggling to put food on the table. Food banks, community and faith based groups such as “chamas”, churches, mosques and temples supported by private and public entities such as governments , NGOs, charities, corporates, and other well-wishers can be mobilised to deliver food, as families stay home.
But in the absence of reliable data and formalised structures that can facilitate logistics, there is a likelihood of missing out those who need this support most. We should not forget that with the difficult economic times, some citizens may be forced into crime in order to survive. Such crime can inhibit intervention efforts.
For vulnerable persons and families in the cities, one-off or multiple cash transfers through mobile money transfers can help cushion such families during this socially disruptive situation. In Kenya, the government through the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has released Sh 8.7 billion for a cash transfer programme.
This is to cushion the vulnerable groups during this pandemic and is being channeled through nominated banks with beneficiaries encouraged to make good use of mobile money as a safe option for transacting in this era of restricted movement as well as social distancing.
There has been commendable interventions by various organisations to support the vulnerable. Mobile phone operators in Kenya for example have waived money transfers fees for transactions below Sh1,000. A coalition of NGOs and private sectors is providing emergency cash transfers to low- income Kenyans hit hardest by Covid-19.
Following the lock down of Nairobi and Mombasa, food supply into these two cities has significantly reduced, pushing prices higher. Farmers on the other hand are finding it difficult to sell their fresh produce, hence incurring massive losses.
In addition to that, farmers have already experienced delays in planting due to lockdowns and shortage of farm inputs. As the crisis continues, the social distancing requirements may compel farmers, laborers and traders in the food value chain to be restricted from farms, pasture and markets which also affects food production.
Creating linkages Measures that can be put in place to address the needs of farmers and consumers include creating e-commerce platforms and other flexible avenues that will offer support in enhancing farmers’ production and market for their produce. This includes establishing food collection centres where farmers can take their produce after which they can be transported to cities. In addition, banks and the government could waive fees to small scale farmers when they access financial support during this period. Farmers also need cash hand-outs and safety net incentives that can enhance their productivity.
In addition, the government should ensure farmers have access to farm inputs such as seedlings and fertilisers especially in the ongoing rainy season. Smart cities can leverage technology to manage food inventory and distribution challenges.
In Singapore for example, to enhance coordination in the food distribution process during Covid-19 crisis, information has been shared across food distribution networks on the inventory of food stocks to ensure that food distribution is proportional to the needs and consumption across the networks.
And at an advanced level, Kenya can leverage on the use of block chain technology in the food distribution process. Block chain technology allows digitisation of information and data that cannot be changed and is visible across multiple parties.
Arjun Raval ([email protected]) is an Associate with KPMG Advisory Services Limited.