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close this bookLiving Conditions of Low-income Older Persons in Human Settlements UNCHS (Habitat) (HABITAT, 1999, 38 p.)
close this folderPART 3
close this folderIV. COUNTRY CASE STUDIES
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Nairobi, Kenya

The Survey of elderly persons living in four squatter settlements around Nairobi was conducted by a research team from HelpAge Kenya directed by Mrs. Kathleen Okatcha, Chief Executive. Except for the care and attention given to them by HelpAge, other NGOs and CBOs, and religious organizations, the elderly in these settlements receive very meagre services or assistance to maintain their livelihoods. Due to migration to Nairobi, many of them have lost family ties left behind in their rural areas of origin. Many have no close relatives; they have been abandoned by their children, or have lost their families. At a mean age of 73 years the 21 respondents taking part in this study, the fact that they have chosen to remain in these poor urban environments suggests no alternative choices. They are consequently denied the right to opt for better living conditions due to historical factors influencing their early lives: lack of education, lack of income due to low or no bargaining power and resultant extreme poverty.

The environment in the four areas surveyed: Huruma, Maili Saba, Kuwinda and Dandora can only be described as slum. Located on steep hillsides or wet areas, adjacent to open dumps and accessible only by paths, conditions are generally crowded. Most of the dwellings are one-room shacks constructed of earth and sticks with metal or plastic roofs. Sanitary facilities are primitive with outdoor taps as the only source of water for drinking or bathing- and the charges for water are excessive. The few pit latrines are seldom used, as people prefer to go into the nearby forests. These areas have a lot of environmental pollution. In elderly people’s weakened state this makes them susceptible to respiratory, water borne and a myriad of other diseases. Health facilities are few and inaccessible to older persons who cannot walk long distances, certainly when unaccompanied. The public bus transport is too expensive and the stops are not nearby. There are no reduced fares for older persons.

For example, Huruma Settlement is described as follows:


7 acres



Distance from city centre


Physical Conditions

Steep hillside


Next to open dump and stagnant water

Means of access


Public services

Piped water, Police/Fire protection

Health facilities

Clinic 10 km by bus

However, Maili Saba, located furthest from the city centre, some 15km has comparatively less extreme circumstances.

Five elderly persons in each area were selected at random for interviews; 13 women and 8 men. The youngest was 57 and the oldest 96. 8 were in their 60s, 7 in their 70s and 6 were over 80. The problems expressed to some extent reflect those in rural areas due to the decaying extended family care system:

· Extreme loneliness and neglect in the face of lost family ties, abandonment by children and kin, and lost families. Of the 21 respondents, 11 were living alone.

· Displacement from the traditional family care system due to displacement and dispossession of their rights to ancestral land. About half those interviewed had lived here 30 or more years.

· Unemployment due to lack of competitive skills or the retirement age. 2 said they had jobs and 10 said they wanted to work.

· Six considered their health as good, and 15 rated it as fair. However, 6 complained of difficulty in walking, 12 had poor eyesight, and 5 had hearing loss.

· None have pensions. Indeed, the formal sector in Kenya provides pensions beyond age 55 to only about 10% of retirees formerly engaged in salaried employment. Majority have worked in the informal sector and many of these are women.

· Overcrowding. 3 respondents lived in one room with 1 to 3 other persons; 2 with 4 to 6 others, and 4 households had 7 or more persons.

· When asked about their daily activities, 4 cited work, 2 did volunteering, 13 attended community meetings, 8 were minding children and 12 spent time with friends.

· Lack of land tenure is an issue as most are squatters on government land and are threatened with eviction if their land is sold to private developers. 14 said they owned their homes, and 4 were tenants.

· Of the houses visited, 13 were made of earth, 4 of wood, 2 of iron sheets and 1 of brick. 16 consisted of 1 or 2 rooms, 2 of 4, and 1 had 5 rooms. Only 3 said they had yards, but some seemed nevertheless to have small gardens.

· Decent Sanitary facilities are a dream that almost all cannot afford. However, some water taps were installed by the city council and by NGOs for most of the residents. 18 persons said they had only access to outdoor taps, and 19 used outdoor baths or showers. 1 house had indoor piped water. It is not uncommon to find residents using contaminated water from nearby rivers.

Fuels: Most of the residents said they could not afford to pay for electricity and therefore used other sources. Only 2 said they had electricity; 4 used oil and 16 used only wood or charcoal.

Public Services: 13 reported public waste collection and disposal, and 14 cited police and fire protection services. Only 1 said that streets were publicly cleaned.

Community Services: Hospitals, clinics, churches, schools and shops are reported as available by bus with no reduced fare for seniors. Only 3 reported they had home health visits and where elderly community centres existed they were provided by NGOs (Note: Health provision through home care is definitely an area that NGOs can focus on in poor neighbourhoods in the short term).

Difficult Living Conditions - Summary of responses:

Inadequate living space


Lack of health services


Difficult access to dwelling


Lack of transport


Security and Safety


Lack of shops


(Note: Wayside “Dukas/Kiosks” (shops) are plentiful in these areas. However, these are owned by outsiders who can afford or borrow capital to set them up. These would be good income generating ventures for the residents of these areas and would provide work opportunities for the elderly.)

Final Comment by Kathleen Okatcha:

“HelpAge Kenya has indeed enjoyed being part of this world-wide study whose information has been shared with our Government through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Heritage and Sports. Incidentally, after the launch of the International Year for Older Persons (IYOP) on October 1, 1998, the National Committee for IYOP was formed to focus on activities for older persons during 1999 and beyond. We do hope that during the tenure of this working committee, policies and legislation will be put in place to address most of the thorny issues that plague the senior citizens in our country”.

“In this survey we had an opportunity to meet and talk with older persons who were not only energetic, but whose mental acumen were still strong and useful. These people should not be treated as outcasts in community. Rather they should be given the respect they deserve, in accordance with our African heritage. They should be given an opportunity to participate in development decision-making and education of the younger generations: their traditional role. They need not be involved in strenuous work, but their contribution is vital and should be tapped into. Our hope is that analyses from this study will form the basis of clear and concise policies; and their rapid adoption so as to secure a present and future hope for older persons in Kenya”.