3. PARLIAMENTARY ADVOCACY REPORT
Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) has been central in amplifying the voices of Owino-Uhuru community in Mombasa County to
advocate for; and access the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and socio-economic justice. CJGEA has achieved this through application of
Human rights based approach to environmental protection in such communities as Owino-Uhuru hosting the Extractive industries.
After years of unrelenting targeted advocacy, a parliamentary task force was set up to inform the state on the Issue of Owino Uhuru lead poisoning. CJGEA collaborated with two government taskforces that have been set up with the sole purpose of addressing the violation of the right to clean, healthy and sustainable environment of Owino-Uhuru community as enshrined in Article 42, 69 and 70 of the constitution of Kenya and other international legal instruments. These include: -
A. TASKFORCE FROM THE OFFICE OF DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROCECUTIONS (DPP)
Director of public prosecutions has commissioned a taskforce that is tasked with investigating events that have led to lead poisoning in Owino-Uhuru community. This taskforce was tasked with the mandate to investigate and bring criminal charges against anyone that was culpable for lead poisoning of the Owino-Uhuru community. CJGEA hosted the taskforce in Kilifi Kenya and requested for a desk in our office for three days and we played a critical role in sharing all our research that has been done over the years with the taskforce that would help in forming a concrete criminal case against anyone culpable of the violations of the rights of the community. The taskforce agreed to work closely with CJGEA to ensure that justice was achieved for people of Owino-Uhuru. Statements from various NEMA officers was also recorded by the taskforce in regard to the signing and issuance of an EIA of the Metal Refinery EPZ in Owino Uhuru.
B. OWINO-UHURU PARLIAMENTARY TASKFORCE VISIT ON 18/06/2015
A parliamentary taskforce comprised of various government departments which included:- Ministry of Health(MOH), Kenya Bureau of Standards(KEBS), Water Resource Management Authority(WRMA), Occupation Safety and Health(OSH) ,National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) ,Government Chemist and Criminal Investigations Department (CID) visited CJGEA on a fact finding mission about lead poisoning of Owino-Uhuru community. The taskforce was being chaired by Mr. Samuel Okuche from the Ministry of Health who outlined the purpose of the taskforce was to investigate events that have led to lead poisoning of the Owino-Uhuru community. Though this was currently its sole purpose, the taskforce would investigate other environmental pollution incidences around the country. He continued to say that the taskforce was mandated to:-
(i) Decommission the case involving lead smelting industry in Changamwe, Mombasa County (Owino Uhuru)
(ii) Undertake processes involving prosecution of the lead poisoning case.
(iii) Determine contamination/pollution levels in Owino Uhuru resulting from the Smelter industry
(iv) Discuss the probability of the need of Restoration/ compensation of Owino Uhuru community.
(v) Preparation of a final report in Nakuru that should be presented to the Ministry of Environment in its virgin form.
Ms. Phyllis Omido, Executive director at CJGEA being the whistle blower of the lead poisoning caused by the Metal refinery was asked to give a brief
description of the major events that have occurred since the establishment of the Smelter. She revealed that her personal reason of whistle blowing had
resulted from diagnosis of her son with lead poisoning.
She highlighted the history of CJGEA and appreciated the government involvement in Owino Uhuru lead poisoning case. She continued to assure the team that the organization was ready to provide all the information needed for the good of the community in question.
Ms. Phyllis noted the importance of including EPZ authority in the taskforce as they were major players in the establishment and running of the metal refinery. In her brief narration, she mentioned how she became personally attached to the community having experienced difficult moments during the treatment of her son. Being a former worker of the metal refinery, and the fact that the employers didn’t do any public participation especially on the effects they would experience from industry as required during Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process disappointed her hence the whistle blowing. “Access to Information and public participation are key in ensuring environmental Justice,” she said. She mentioned how she had mobilized funds for the testing of the first three victims, later Ministry of Health (MOH) in collaboration with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and KTN tested more from the community and all blood lead levels were above the 10µg/dl standard established by World Health Organization (WHO). Also SGS conducted tests on soil, water and vegetation that were positive for lead contamination. According to Ms. Phyllis, it has been a rough road with a lot of lobbying and advocacy to the state departments with no action being taken. Death of a former smelter worker heightened the situation which led to demonstration hence the arrest of Ms. Phyllis and other sixteen community members .She even feared for her life when her office was broken into and attacked on her way home. She experienced several setbacks including petitioning for the relocation of industry which failed, refusal of government chemists to continue conducting the tests leading to use of private laboratories (Path care and Lancet) but had concerns since they used South African Standards. Also after partnering with a human rights organization, presented a film to the NEMA Director general but still no action was taken.
The taskforce was furnished with all information that CJGEA had on lead poisoning on soft copy that would help them in understanding and provide a detailed report to the Ministry of environment and natural resources and an action taken for the people of Owino-Uhuru to realize their human rights and seek redress for the violations.
A walk-through survey of Owino Uhuru area by the parliamentary taskforce. Later the task force left for Owino-Uhuru and arrived at around half past two in the afternoon. Members of CJGEA who are already familiar with the area lead the taskforce through the community with the help of a few community members. Specialists in different departments especially hydrologist and toxicologist stopped at different boreholes to survey how the issue of water table could have led to contamination of the drinking water. The community river was also visited and issues such as the slope from the refinery, water self-purification due to its unique chemistry, sediment analysis and upstream and downstream water analysis with point of effluent entry being the reference point were briefly noted to be further discussed.
The chairman of the taskforce grouped the members into three groups which were to conduct a brief unstructured interview from selected affected members of the community. After the brief interview, the chairman gave the community assurance that the taskforce was going to do their best for the state to provide the necessary help to the members.
As courtesy of CJGEA executive director, Yusuf Lule of Human Rights Agenda (HURIA) was introduced to the taskforce and requested that other areas also needed attention such as Sand harvesting in Kwale that a sand mine collapsed and killed three and a diatomite accident in Kilifi County.
2nd meeting of the parliamentary taskforce convened in Bontana hotel in Nakuru on 30th June 2015. The whole of the taskforce was present and CJGEA facilitated a chemical disease expert Dr. Simba Tirima to be in attendance. CJGEA had requested the chairman of the taskforce to allow a capacity building presentation from Dr. Simba Tirima an environmental scientist allied to CJGEA. CJGEA believed that this would help the taskforce come up with the best recommendation for the state action on the case. Dr. Simba has worked in various countries globally on issues relating to chemical disease specifically heavy metals including remediation of communities affected by lead poisoning. The doctor explained briefly on what is expected during remediation, confluence factors that have led to increased demand of lead, the multidisciplinary nature of the remediation process. He insisted on the importance of targeting children especially under 5years who most vulnerable due to their hand to mouth habit crawling on the ground eating dust and expectant mothers.
Later, the taskforce left for a practical capacity building at Xiangui international ltd that had been assembling batteries before complaints by the workers had attracted media attention following the Expose’ of the Owino Uhuru Lead poisoning. A Public Health Officer (PHO) led the taskforce to the site where demonstration of XRAY FLOURESENCE SPECTROMETER (XRF) was done. An XRF is used to tests various media especially soil for the presence of heavy metals including lead. It basically works by the use of an X-ray light that is able to penetrate to an element of soil destabilizing the atom as such a specific spectrum of that element is read by the spectrometer.
The above named industry that was now a timber yard producing wooden products was used for the demonstration of the XRF by testing soil media where it was suspected that the batteries had been assembled. Surprisingly since the in charge person had assured us that they hadn’t in 8 years assembled batteries, the XRF reading was 2million parts per million (ppm), and outside the gate on a dirt road where we expected a lot of traffic and cover up by fresh soil tested 800ppm. NEMA suggested on the importance of purchasing their own XRF which was the reason for lacking proof to hold smelting companies responsible for lead poisoning to workers and surrounding communities. Analyzing the physical samples by the government laboratories was an option even without an XRF, the doctor advised. The meeting was adjourned leaving the taskforce to proceed with their agenda. Conclusively, both taskforces have been created with the purpose of investigating events that have led to mass lead poisoning by the Metal refinery EPZ Ltd of the Owino Uhuru community. This is intended to achieve social-economic justice and access to clean health and sustainable environment as a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of human rights. It is our hope that these taskforces: -
(i) Will lay a platform for environmental protection and human rights in Kenya, through access to information and public participation.
(ii) Give a voice to those that are systematically not listened to and cause their voices to resound and bring about tangible change;
(iii) That this will purposively affect Kenya and create a platform for accountability from the state resulting to protecting the human rights and especially the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.