COVID-19 and Housing adequacy in Nigeria
Adedotun Akinola is a PhD Candidate and Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria
COVID-19 is still being understood and it is clear that most countries are ill equipped to handle the impacts of this deadly virus. Government and public health professionals have adopted effective strategies such as social distancing, hand washing, and lockdown to flatten the curve of the infectious disease transmission. Also, there is a consensus in Literature that adequate housing plays a critical role in the COVID 19 response. This reinforces the reason why the delivery of adequate housing is a crucial approach for enhancing quality of life and public health.
Housing adequacy is more than just shelter over one’s head but rather it also comprises of housing that is decent, safe, accessible and affordable as well as provides residents with access to services, infrastructure and basic facilities. Furthermore, housing adequacy depends on key measurements which include ambient state of interiors spaces, security, utilities and neighborhood facilities, social infrastructure, level of privacy and size of sleeping, and living and dining areas in the residences. In 2006, UN Habitat explained that specific cultural, social, environmental and economic factors influence housing adequacy. This is because what establishes adequate housing shifts from one nation to another. However, there is no clear understanding of the impact of housing adequacy in reducing the spread of the virus in Nigeria.
A popular argument is that staying at home would reduce the spread of the virus because of the possibility of reducing interpersonal contacts. Developed countries like Germany and United Kingdom are often mentioned as key examples. This argument may sound forthright, but on further investigation, its premise is not well-founded, at least in Nigeria. For instance, some extremely dense cities in Nigeria with inadequate housing, such as Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Abuja have recorded high number of COVID-19 cases even with the stay at home order by the government. This was majorly even the simple strategies like social distancing and washing of hands are almost impractical to adopt for urban residents who live in inadequate housing conditions. Moreover, people are not staying at home because the living conditions are not conducive. Based on anecdotal evidence from Nigeria, I will present a counter argument.
In Nigeria cities, the housing problem is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Also, UN Habitat as far back as 2006 revealed that in most urban centres of Nigeria the state of housing especially as regards its quality is poor. In addition to that, many urban residents live in slums with deplorable conditions like crowded rooms, lack of stable electricity, lack of clean water supply, poor waste management, poor sanitation, shared toilets. Apart from the poor housing conditions, most of the urban residents in Lagos share facilities like toilets and bathrooms, water supply, waste management and so on especially those living in rooming houses (face me I face you). Therefore, it will be difficult for social distancing to be maintained in such apartments and for the residents to follow the preventive measures like handwashing.
As earlier mentioned, housing adequacy is critical to the fight against the virus and for the stay at home order to be effective in reducing the spread of the virus in developing countries, especially Nigeria. Housing should be conceived in such a way that each household would have access to essential services such as clean water supply, power supply, toilets and bathroom, waste management and so on under the same roof to reduce interpersonal contacts.
In conclusion, I believe that COVID19 presents an opportunity to rethink the design, development, production and administration of housing projects in order to provide adequate housing for Nigerian urban residents.
UN-HABITAT (2006b), National Experiences with Shelter Delivery for the Poorest Groups, UN-HABITAT, Nairobi.
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