Kenyan Government Moves Quickly to Push Port Through, Circumventing Local People and Kenyan Law
Though the presidential election still remains in dispute in Kenya, with the opposition charging fraudulent and erroneous voting, the left hand of the government is busy pushing forward the multi-billion dollar project to build a second national port. The process is being so quickly moved that the recent Environmental Impact Assessment for the port has been completed, published and the public comment period expired, all before it was made public or local stakeholders were given opportunity to review it – in contravention of Kenyan law.
The building of this monumental port, whose need has never been clearly established, represents one of the largest projects in recent history in East Africa and perhaps the entire continent. The port is poised to impact one of the world’s most vitally important sites of cultural and conservation importance: the Lamu Archipelago. This gargantuan project is estimated to cover 1,000 acres, including plans for an oil refinery and terminal, international airport and railway track to Southern Sudan. In Lamu alone, 6,000 families are likely to be displaced by the project but local people in the region have never been consulted concerning the project nor have they been allowed to review the recent environmental impact assessment performed. Local leaders, environmental groups, hoteliers and other locals dependent upon the region’s natural resource base as well as cultural leaders fearing the destruction of Lamu’s unique cultural heritage have banded together to oppose the construction of the port which stands to devastate both the culture of Lamu and its natural environment.
The site proposed for the port could not be any more environmentally damaging, posing tremendous negative impact on Kenya’s mangroves, corals, and threatened marine fauna. In 1980, 60,000 hectares off the coast north of Lamu was designated a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Project in recognition of its international conservation importance. The intention of this designation was to preserve in perpetuity the outstanding biodiversity, natural resources and ecology of the area through management that incorporates the full participation of local people. The proposed port flies in the face of such international aims. To build the port, pristine forests in the region of the port site would require extensive felling. The mangroves of the Lamu Archipelago represent more than half of Kenya’s mangroves, covering some 342 square kilometers. The port site sits squarely in the center of the archipelago which will exacerbate, rather than minimize impact. Increased rates of degradation would seriously imperil this fragile ecosystem and reduce its capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change. Extensive dredging, of the order necessary to allow ships to pass from the open sea into the channel, would further impact huge stands of mangroves and corals and degrade areas in the vicinity with the dumping material. Marine wildlife – in this area which is supposed to be nationally and internationally protected – would be devastated.
Impacts on local people and wildlife from the project stand to be irreparable. In the past, local fishermen have hailed creeks in the area as shrimp sanctuaries, vital to local subsistence. Several species of sea turtles use protected bays and inland channels regularly in the winter as feeding grounds and many species of reef fish and crustaceans feed here. The importance of this region to a critically endangered species, the dugong (Dugong dugon), is of paramount concern; these creatures rely on shallow sea grass beds exclusively for their survival. Dredging and cutting of the magnitude proposed would have a catastrophic impact on this animal, one of the nation’s most threatened species, and virtually ensure local extinction.
Opening up the Lamu Archipelago to transport and refining of oil is clearly incompatible with aims of biosphere reserve designation. Incidental and accidental spillage on the periphery of such an internationally important environment must be factored into any risk assessment associated with construction and clearly has not been. Anywhere along the Kenyan coast the effect of a large scale spill on both commercial and artisanal fishing industries would be significant, but particularly devastating to the Lamu Archipelago. Such spills are not atypical. In the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, for example, minor oil spills occur frequently. In areas where shipping is most heavy, such as in Israeli waters, as many as 22 small spills were recorded in 1990. Any oil spilling within the vulnerable inland channel around Manda Bay would be concentrated there, having little outflow, and thus the corals and related marine life supported therein would be impacted directly before any diffusing of oil occurred that would take it out to the open sea where it would further impact fringing reefs and pelagic species. Ship traffic also poses a major, sustained risk of damage to coral reefs and related marine life through oil pollution. Kenya’s coral reefs support in the order of 80% of the artisanal fishing industry. Worldwide, coral reefs are experiencing severe die-offs associated with global warming and ocean acidification. Threats to corals posed by this project are not limited to oil spillage and oil pollution, but a host of associated effects, including smothering by sediment from dredging and land conversion, contamination by pollutants from industrial activity as well as untreated sewage and municipal wastewater from construction crews and new developments (airport, railroad and refinery.) Additional pollution sources that would impact the larger marine realm from both shipping and road/rail transportation include discarded solid waste, spills of mineral and organic matter from bulk cargo loading operations, chemical and thermal discharges from power generation facilities, and discarded garbage from incoming and outgoing ships. It is worth noting that there has been a 70% decline in fish species in the area of the existing national port in Mombasa.
A second port situated in the Lamu Archipelago also threatens the thriving base of tourism that currently exists in the region. Sports fishermen come from all over Europe to catch and release the region’s magnificent pelagic and reef species of fish. The region has enticed dignitaries and royalty for years due to its idyllic beauty, remoteness and incredible marine wildlife and nearby big game. In 1997, Princess Diana brought the two young princes to stay at nearby Kiwaiyu Safari Village within Kiunga Marine Reserve. Old Lamu Town has attracted tourists for decades with its rich history and culture and an additional concern for port construction at this site lies with another UN designated site – that of Lamu, itself, with its World Heritage Site status. Elders in Lamu foresee the demise of their culture and way of life as they already watch prostitutes arriving from the interior in anticipation of the boom town to be. If a port and oil refinery were to open, an international airport would hardly be necessary as the region would lose forever its appeal – both biological and cultural.
A former minister of Parliament in Kenya, Mr. Omar Mzee, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “This is going to be a total mess. The government is thinking of the national G.D.P. This will not benefit Lamu. It never has.” (NYT, 1/12/10)
The creation of Kenya’s second port stands to degrade and potentially devastate this vitally important internationally recognized site of conservation importance – the central Lamu Archipelago – and stands to benefit few except those in high places. It is no wonder that the recently conducted Environmental Impact Assessment, contracted by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), has thus been quickly rushed through and the public commentary period dodged. Local people have a right to review whatever assessment has been made of the impact that this proposed project will have, particularly if it was done with any degree of integrity. However, NEMA did not make it public nor distribute it to all stakeholders. Kenyan law clearly mandates that EIAs must be announced publicly and made available prior to the public commentary window. Obviously, law is not an issue given the vast sums of money to be gained from construction of this unnecessary port.
Please take action to save the Lamu Archipelago! Write a letter of complaint to NEMA demanding that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the port be made public to local people and all stakeholders in accordance with Kenyan law. A sample letter follows:
To the Director General NEMA,
As a concerned citizen, I am writing to express my grave concern over the failure of NEMA to share the EIA conducted in association with the planned second national port with all the relevant stakeholders, including local people and local NGOs. This breach is a contravention of Kenyan law as it is NEMA’s duty to carry out a public forum and share the findings of the EIA with all relevant stakeholders. The proposed site of the second national port is situated proximate to a highly sensitive and internationally recognized site of conservation importance, notably a UN Man and the Biosphere designated Biosphere Reserve and also two national reserves. The EIA is thus critical to establishing potential effects on an area that is not just important to Kenya, but also internationally. The port project poses potentially devastating effects on mangrove forests, endangered sea turtle populations and critically endangered dugong and it is imperative that these environmental impacts be assessed openly and that the public be given sufficient opportunity to comment.