Making EH visible: mapping food safety in Nairobi’s informal settlements

Mapping has long played a vital role in the on-going struggles to improve environmental health worldwide. The early mapping work of pioneering cholera epidemiologist Dr John Snow continues to inform investigations into the disease in countries like Haiti to this day. But for many mapping, like so many EH interventions, continues to be something you have done to you. However a fascinating blog by the International Institute for Environment and Development (www.iied.org) introduces some bottom-up approaches to mapping food safety in Nairobi’s informal settlements that EHPs shouldn’t ignore and could potentially benefit from.

In a context where informal settlements are considered ‘illegal’ and rendered invisible to government and other service providers (the Calais ‘Jungle’ is being dismantled as I write), the blog describes how Kenyan slum dwellers are organising and mapping their informal settlements to better determine their own needs and priorities. Selling food is a vital job for many and food vendors, in their own words, are using mapping to identify hazards and implement their own environmental health improvements. By playing local government at its own game, the authors argue that local communities are potentially making themselves more visible and harder to ignore.

Where ever EHPs work (e.g. the Calais Jungle, again), the informal sector isn’t going away. I’ve spent a long time with local government EHPs in African informal settlements and I’ve never met any that ignore them, though I’ve met plenty who feel guilty when describing their powerlessness to intervene for all the reasons described here. Therefore how could we better support community based organisations like Muungano to improve their own environmental health? From past experience I suspect this might be happening already and I will be contacting some Kenyan EHPs soon to find out, but perhaps we EHPs could also benefit from Muungano’s experience in increasing the visibility of environmental health?

The mapping blog and a wealth of supporting publications and videos are available from: http://www.iied.org/mapping-for-food-safety

With best wishes, Rob

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