COVID-19 lockdowns: Employment and business disruptions, water access and hygiene practices in Nairobi's informal settlements

Nupur Joshi, Sara Lopus, Corrie Hannah, Kacey C. Ernst, Aminata P. Kilungo, Romanus Opiyo, Margaret Ngayu, Julia Davies, Tom Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Host to one billion people around the world, informal settlements are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 lockdown measures as they already lack basic services such as water, toilets, and secure housing. Additionally, many residents work in informal labor markets that have been affected by the lockdowns, resulting in further reductions in access to resources, including clean water. This study uses a cross-sectional design (n = 532) to examine the vulnerabilities of households to employment and business disruptions, water access and hygiene practices during the COVID-19 lockdowns between April and June 2020 in three informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. We used survey questions from the Household Water Insecurity Experience Scale (HWISE) to investigate the relationship between employment and business disruptions, water access, and hygiene practices (i.e., hand washing, body washing, clothes washing, and being able to use or drink clean water). Of the sampled households, 96% were forced to reduce work hours during the lockdowns, and these households had 92% lower odds of being able to afford water than households who did not experience a work hour reduction (OR = 0.08, p <.001). Household challenges in affording water were likely due to a combination of reduced household income, increased water prices, and pre-existing poverty, and were ultimately associated with lower hygiene scores (Beta = 1.9, p <.001). Our results highlight a compounding tragedy of reduced water access in informal settlements that were already facing water insecurities at a time when water is a fundamental requirement for following hygiene guidelines to reduce disease burden during an ongoing pandemic. These outcomes emphasize the need for targeted investments in permanent water supply infrastructures and improved hygiene behaviors as a public health priority among households in informal settlements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115191
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • COVID-19 lockdowns
  • Employment and business disruptions
  • Hygiene
  • Informal settlements
  • Sub-saharan Africa
  • Water access

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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