COVID-19 PANDEMIC OUTBREAK AND THE HOUSING ENVIRONMENT IN LAGOS, NIGERIA
Victor Abimbola Onifade
Senior Lecturer, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Lagos
The Coronavirus pandemic outbreak, also known as COVID-19, started from one large urban region in China (Wuhan) late in 2019. This pandemic has spread far and wide to all continents impacting the economy, living standards, health, productivity, housing and governance. The rate of spread of the virus and the uncertainties surrounding the entire situation led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the Coronavirus outbreak a ‘Global Public Health Emergency’ on 30 January 2020.
Different countries started enforcing various measures towards containing the virus such as total lockdown, stay at home policy, social distancing, self-isolation, restriction in movement and others. However, these measures have shown the gaps in housing development in Lagos, especially in low income communities like Bariga, Ajegunle, Sari-Iganmu etc., that lack basic facilities such as tap water, good drainage, electricity supply, sanitary and solid waste disposal facilities. Part of the preventive measures for COVID-19 is regular washing of hands, yet this will not be possible without adequate running water. In the report prepared by WHO[i] on interim guidance for local authorities, it was emphasized that many densely populated areas experience high case numbers and deaths, which reflects the ease of introduction and spread of the virus in such places. The most pertinent issue is that many locations and houses in Lagos are in this category with a high number of households in limited housing units. As pointed out by Olajide[ii], a significant number of people who live in Lagos are poor and are accommodated in slums. Their lives are precarious. Housing conditions are poor and there is overcrowding and a lack of basic services. He emphasizes that about 80% of the residents of Sari-Iganmu live in one room with an average of seven people. An average of seven households share toilet and bathroom facilities with no running water.
Cities, including megacities like Lagos, are highly complex settlements that are regionally and globally dependent on each other and neighboring towns, rural areas, and places where migrants come from. Given the high population density, the risk of spread of infectious diseases is often elevated, especially in congested areas (e.g. crowded sidewalks, supermarkets, mass gatherings including cultural, sporting and religious events), and their people often rely on extensive and crowded public transportation networks to get from one place to another. This is further to the fact that many communities in Lagos have crowded and substandard housing, where toileting facilities are shared, and with no access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between adequate housing and environmental quality and residents’ health[iii]. The characteristics, conditions, and quality of housing constitute the basic factors that influence occupants’ health status. It is good to note that quality, accessibility, sufficiency, and the ease of acquisition of housing are issues of great concern particularly in the developing countries because poor housing has constituted public health risks as evidenced in many nations. The majority of the existing health challenges are either directly or indirectly linked to an occupied building given the type and nature of the construction material used, the structural design of the building, and also the equipment installed. In addition, many urban environments are underserved with infrastructures, there are self-constructed infrastructures by communities and charities to bridge the gaps and mitigate more deleterious effects. Hindu[iv], stressed that there are essential amenities that a house must possess for it to serve the expected purpose and consequently enhance health and productivity: power backup; water supply; security services; lifts; parking space; recreational facilities; access to common spaces; waste disposal and ventilation. Also, Field and Field [v] stated that housing and environmental amenities consist of the quality and quantity of guest rooms available, tangible and intangible amenities and also include the provision of facilities such as restaurants, communal areas, health club, swimming pools, transport system, open spaces, etc. Adjei et al.[vi] saw that the issue of providing housing that is affordable to the urban residents has over the years become serious concern both to the government and private participants in the housing sub-sector of the economy. Babalola[vii] emphasized that the quality of the available housing in the low-income residential areas is poorly developed and uninhabitable but can be significantly improved if housing designers, developers, and managers pay adequate attention to issues that promote qualitative adequacy of housing. This is because housing standards are completely unrealistic and prohibitive of more wide ranging solutions in many cities. Therefore, the housing provision should put into consideration the culture and peculiarities of each city, with the view to accommodate sustainable human settlement.
In addition to different measures put in place in containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of self-isolation and physical distancing will not be achieved in some residential locations in Lagos, Nigeria especially the densely populated areas like Bariga, Mushin, Amuwo-Odofin, Ajegunle, Somolu, etc., if the issue of housing and environmental quality is not properly adhered to. This includes provision of basic facilities like water supply, recreational facilities, standard housing with adequate space, and ventilation.
To forestall the spread of a future pandemic, we need to start thinking of what can be done from the housing point of view. Some of responses include ensuring adequate housing, reducing the risk of becoming homeless and anticipating outward-migration and mobility of population subgroups, including liaison with the local authorities at their destinations to contain the further spread and ensure social protection and basic needs. The Lagos state government’s approach to slums has to shift from neglect, minimal upgrading and demolition, and eviction to slum upgrading with the provision of adequate infrastructures such as sanitation facilities and housing. Presently, Lagos State Government established Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) through Edit No. 7 of 1991. It is one of the parastatals under the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning And Urban Development. The Agency is saddled with the responsibility of implementing the State policy on Urban Renewal and Upgrading of slums (blighted communities). There is an ongoing redevelopment project of Adeniji Adele Phase 1 Housing Estate on Lagos Island which will be extended to other identified slum areas. The state Government has also implemented the provision of health care centres in all political wards. More sanitary facilities and other facilities are to be put in place. If successful, these measures will go a long way to ease the housing quality burden and enhance healthy living especially in prime locations with better access to livelihood opportunities and drastic reduction of displacement.
Further, there is a need to ensure that due consideration is given to maintaining good mental wellbeing. This includes, where appropriate, daily access to outdoor space for exercise and ensuring safe access to public areas such as keeping parks open, with measures to reduce crowding, and maintain physical distancing. When there are restrictions and there are no facilities that people can engage in, many will be forced to violate the orders. In Lagos, there are records of mental/ psychological challenges, domestic violence, rape, etc. This could be linked to inadequate housing and environmental facilities to stimulate urban dwellers within the period of staying at home. Therefore, proper attention should be given to the housing environment to curtail, reduce, and ameliorate future pandemic disease in Lagos, Nigeria.
[i] World Health Organisation (2019). Statement on the Meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee Regarding the Outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019-ncov). Available online: https://www.who.int/newsroom/detail/23-01-2020-statement-on-the-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)emergency-committee-regarding-the-outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov) (accessed on 06 June 2020).
[ii] Olajide, Oluwafemi (2020). Lagos makes it hard for people living in slums to cope with shocks like COVID-19, The Conversation; https://theconversation.com/lagos-makes-it-hard-for-people-living-in-slums-to-cope-with-shocks-like-covid-19-138234. Accessed on 10 June 2020.
Yormesor, G.K. (2007), “Affordable housing for Ghana’s urban poor”, Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 16-31.
[iii] e.g.: the authors quoted in this post
[iv] Hindu, A. (2016), Essential Amenities in Apartment, available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/10-essential-amenities in apartments/article8344665.ece, (accessed on 10/06/2020).
[v] Field, B.C. , and Field, M.K. (2017), Environmental Economics, an Introduction (7ed.), McGraw Hill, pp. 145-147.
[vi] Adjei, K.O., Fobiri, G. and Owiredu, G.K. (2015), “Policies and Barriers in the Provision of Affordable Housing in Ghana”, African Journal of Applied Research, Vol.1 No.1, pp. 159-169.
[vii] Babalola, D.O. (2016), “Assessment of Housing Quality of Selected Residential Estates In Lagos State, Nigeria”, Submitted to the School of Postgraduate Studies, In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Award of a Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D. Degree in Architecture, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria
No 6 – This blog article is written under the auspices of the British Academy supported Critical Thinking and Writing Workshop for Urban Studies Researchers in Nigeria.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.