“How can you expect to stay indoors? It’s like an oven inside! “
In the shade of a mango tree, Nemati Houmadi talks to her neighbors, all eager to enjoy the cool morning breeze blowing over Karidjavendza, a slum on the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.
In theory, the small gathering should not take place. Mayotte – a department of France – is locked out, like its country of origin, at 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles).
But Karidjavendza is a microcosm of the challenges many governments face as they try to fight coronaviruses in contexts of overcrowding and poverty.
Here, people have to endure suffocating heat in tin shacks – a problem that millions of slums confined to the north of the equator will soon experience as spring advances into summer.
And here, the risk of coronavirus increases with poor sanitation, even with the deep pockets of France to help this distant territory.
Mayotte is one of the four islands in the Comoros archipelago north-west of Madagascar, which was once ruled by France.
In 1974, he was the only one of the four to vote in favor of maintaining his link with France and renouncing independence – a decision that the other islands have so far rejected.
Now one of 101 departments in France, Mayotte has recorded 184 cases of coronavirus, two of which were fatal.
In Karidjavendza, there is no running water or electricity and the alleys are made of clay. About a thousand people live here, mostly undocumented Comorian citizens.
Today, the outside temperature is around 30 to 32 degrees Celsius (86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Without cooling, the temperature in corrugated iron houses – used by 40% of homes in Mayotte – generally reaches 40 to 45 ° C (104 to 113 ° F).
“We don’t have a fan or air conditioning,” said Houmadi, a woman in her 50s and mother of four aged 12 to 20. “Outside, at least you can breathe! “
Another big concern is water.
A third of the citizens of Mayotte do not have access to running water. In Karidjavendza, part of the Kahani district in the center of the island, residents fill their jerry cans with a water source installed a decade ago, accessible via a smart card.
“The water point works only a few hours a day. There is not enough water for all of us to fill our cans – we have to bother people in Komprani to get water from their outlet, “said Houmadi, referring to a nearby slum.
“It is difficult for us to recharge our smart cards at the moment,” said neighbor Ibrahim Ousseni Abdallah. “The only place is in Kaweni (25 kilometers, 15 miles), and with the lock, it’s hard to get there. “
– Risk of coronavirus –
The French charity Médecins du Monde says that water taps “are neither desirable from a health point of view, because they create clusters, nor sufficient from a humanitarian point of view”.
Lack of water creates an obvious problem for basic defense against the coronavirus, said Conservative MP Mayotte Mansour Kamardine.
“If you don’t have water, you can’t wash your hands. “
Hand sanitizer is scarce in Mayotte, and its high price makes it a low priority for the island’s population, 82% of whom live below the official poverty line.
Another problem in Karidjavendza – and familiar to slum dwellers around the world – is the relentless pressure on resources from population growth and the informal status of the region.
“People are crouching on this ground,” said the first deputy mayor of Ouangani district, Dahalani Hamada.
“There is a garbage dump there, and people are not allowed to live within 200 meters (yards) of it. When the first people moved in, we installed the water point, and it was enough for everyone at the time. “
“No one is thinking of us,” said Kadafi, a 33-year-old man who said he arrived in Mayotte at the age of 10 and whose resident status application had been rejected seven times.
“Many of us are foreigners, and many of us are undocumented, but there is not a single house that has no French citizen. “
Mayotte is administratively part of France, even if it is more than 8000 kilometers from Paris