Covid-19, Self-Isolation and Housing Design Inadequacy in Lagos
Vine Osato is a Real Estate Officer at Uraga Real Estate Limited, Ikoyi, Lagos.
The coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, emerged from Wuhan, China in December 2019. According to the World Health Organization (2020), it is a deadly novel disease transmitted through droplets of saliva and nose discharge from an infected person. It is spreading rapidly in Nigeria, in spite of quick intervention of federal and state governments to restrict movement and institute a lockdown.
One of the reasons why the virus is spreading so fast in Nigeria is because of the poor housing structure and design in some parts of the country. Many communities are high density in nature with building types accommodating multiple households. The current trends of the virus show that it is being spread at community level. What this means is that people already infected with the virus may not be able to successfully self-isolate without coming in contact with others in their apartment and vicinity because of the large cluster of people. This implies that, if one person contracts coronavirus in such environment, it would be a disaster because safety measures of self-isolation, social distancing, frequent washing of hands with soap and water and all other safety measures cannot be effectively achieved.
Credits: Adebiyi,, 2020
Tenement design design
Tenement buildings are not constructed to conveniently accommodate people. They are the most precarious type of housing setting for this pandemic period. In Nigeria, these types of houses in which room series of rooms lining a corridor are popularly referred to as ‘Face Me I Face You’. Occupiers in this type of building have to queue to make use of almost all facilities within such property, including toilets and bathrooms. In a typical situation, the pressure of shared facilities results in conflict and poor social distancing. A similar scenario is the hostel design. For example, an average hostel room in Abule-oja has about 4 occupants with a twin double bed (bunk), toilet, bathroom, kitchen, common tables, chairs, switches and more shared items. It is difficult to observe social distancing in such a situation because occupants have to share almost everything. The implication of this is that the virus has the tendency to spread fast. Most of the people who reside in hostel facilities are students who can barely do without shaking of hands, hugging, visiting from one room to the other
Households that live in more spacious environments are also vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. For example, a typical 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom apartment with a household size of six in which members of the family share one or two common toilet and bathroom are vulnerable to infection once one member of the family is infected.. According to Oshodi (2010), the occupancy ratio in Lagos is between 8-10 persons per room, much more than the global occupancy ratio of an average of 2 persons per room.
Therefore, self-isolation and social distancing are practically impossible in the major Nigerian building typologies, irrespective of how careful the occupants may be. This calls for both government and developers’ attention.
A simple solution is to revise and enforce construction guidelines to ensure that all bedrooms in newly constructed buildings have en-suite bathroom/ toilet facilities, while already built houses can be modified to ensure sustainable standard and safety measures. The guidelines can include a strict provision to ensure that properties henceforth have at least 75% toilet and bathrooms in their houses, that is, a 3 bedroom house should have 3 toilets and bath while houses with 5 bedrooms should have at least 4 toilets and bathrooms.
In conclusion, COVID-19 is an eye opener to an appropriate housing design going forward. Government needs to pay more attention to housing designs in high density areas, and it is essential that policies are made to guide against inadequate housing designs. One major lesson we all should learn from this novel Coronavirus disease is that household access to hygiene facilities matter in housing design and disease prevention.
Adebiyi Jelili (2020). Why Coronavirus May Be Deadlier In Nigeria: A Housing Perspective- https://www.uromivoice.com/2020/04/01/why-coronavirus-may-be-deadlier-in-nigeria-a-housing-perspective-by-jelili-adebiyi/
Lookman Oshodi (2010). Housing, Population and Development in Lagos, Nigeria- oshlookman.wordpress.com
Riggs, T. (2020) Confronting COVID-19: The Effects of COVID-19 on Multifamily and Affordable Housing, April 10, 2020- https://urbanland.uli.org/covid-19/the-effects-of-covid-19-on-multifamily-and-affordable-housing/