Take decisive steps to end high poverty rates in urban areas

Children crossing a sewage-filled river along Mukuru kwa Reuben slum, Nairobi. August 14, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The percentage of Kenyans living below the national poverty line, according to World Bank, fell from 46.8 per cent in 2006 to 36.1 per cent in 2016.

The decline was attributable to progress in rural areas where poverty decreased from around 50 per cent in 2006 to 38.8 per cent in 2016.

This contrasts with stagnant poverty incidence in urban areas. With ever-growing population and increased urbanisation, the number of people living below the poverty line (pauperism) increased in urban areas and North Eastern counties from 2.3 to 3.8 million and from 2.4 to 3.2 million respectively.

The poverty rate was not any better in 2017 and thereafter because of a wide range of factors. Of concern is the fact that the wellbeing of the larger percentage of Kenyan population lags considerably behind in terms of development.

According to a survey by Borgen Project, a reputed organisation that addresses poverty and hunger around the world, around 35.5 per cent of Kenya’s population lives below the poverty line. This means that more than one-third of the entire country’s population lives on less than Sh190 per day. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ 2020 Comprehensive Poverty Report, however, indicates that 15.9 million Kenyans were poor.

Today, youth unemployment rate stands at 65 per cent, which is among the highest in the world. Three in five unemployed Kenyans are 15-35 years old. The situation is exacerbated by the shrinking economy, corruption and pervasive income inequality.

According to the National Crime Research Centre, 54 per cent of crimes are committed by youths aged between 16-25 years mainly because of poverty. According to a report by Aga Khan University, 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is below 35 years.

A study conducted by UNICEF in 2020 indicated that almost 1.13 million children of primary school age (six to 13 years) are out of school. The UN agency, as a result, launched a campaign to get 250,000 children back to class.

It has been established that poverty is mainly to blame for teen pregnancy, child marriage, truancy, child labour, child prostitution, juvenile delinquency and drugs.

As Kenya urbanises, towns are not providing enough economic opportunities for urban households to improve their income levels. It should be noted that poverty is caused by economic inequality, corruption, insecurity, unemployment, low wages, poor governance, landlessness, bad economic policies, lack of proper economic infrastructure and poor access to healthcare.

In order to reduce poverty, we must eliminate corruption in government offices, reform economic policies, improve agricultural productivity, and attract local and foreign investors to create more and better job opportunities.

Education is key to tackling poverty, and makes it more likely for people not just to be employed, but to hold jobs that are more secure.

Education is one of the most powerful routes to a better future. As evidence shows, education enables people to escape from the trap of chronic poverty and prevents the transmission of poverty between generations.

Mr Sossion is a member of parliamentary committees on Education and Labour