One of the unintended consequence of COVID19 containment measures is an upsurge in mental health illnesses.
Last week, the UN warned of a global mental health crisis arising from prolonged periods of isolation, anxieties amongst children and youth as the future become uncertain, tensions from job loss and shrinking work opportunities as well as stress from the loss of loved ones.
Noting the projected growth in urban populations and the shrinking un-winding spaces, we can say that the mental health battle will take center stage in urban areas.
For many years, urban communities undermined the role of green infrastructure in the prevention and management of illnesses. City managers and policymakers sold the aesthetic value of green infrastructure and forgot to emphasize the role it plays in rejuvenating the minds and bodies of city dwellers.
Morning jogs, picnics, walks, bird watching, bike riding, fishing, hiking and wildlife watching all play a role in getting the human body active and gets the mind-off the worries of the day. Such activities continue to be a mirage as gray infrastructure increasingly occupy most of our urban spaces.
The unfortunate development within cities and towns of low-income countries is the replacement of green infrastructure with residential buildings, industries, roads, railways, and business centers.
As many say ‘Pesa ni sabuni ya roho’. There is less regard for urban greeneries as decision makers and private developers maximize revenue-generating opportunities at the expense of the health value derived from the existence of urban parks, urban forests and green pedestrian walkways.
The debate between job creation and the retention of green infrastructure gets most city dwellers choosing the former. As the green infrastructure, shrinks, more pollutants are retained in the environment consequently deteriorating the health of city dwellers.
Over years, cities authorities and the residents tend to spend more of their incomes fighting diseases that were preventable if they took care of green infrastructure earlier.
It is fascinating to see the Nairobi Metropolitan Services prioritizing rehabilitation of Michuki Park and working closely with other authorities to protect green infrastructures within the metropolis.
However, much work remain in the hands of city dwellers. The authorities will not be there to stop you from dropping a water bottle in the park or dumping your waste on a flowerbed.
The existence of green infrastructure within a city is a collective responsibility. It goes beyond legislation. The health of one city dweller should be a concern to another.
Whether you live in the high-income neighborhoods or the low-income areas, the effects of not protecting urban greeneries and the related infrastructure do not discriminate.
As countries slowly re-open their economies, city authorities and residents need to pay attention to green infrastructure as a COVID19 recovery tool, more so with the projected increase in mental health illnesses.