The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) is currently in the process of building a $160 million dollar dam as a part of the Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric power project. This is a very controversial undertaking; on one hand, Kenya needs the extra electricity that the dam would produce. On the other hand, the effects of the dam on surrounding inhabitants could be disastrous. 30 km of river could dry up, cutting off or severely limiting the only water supply of more than 1,500 people. This also affects their food supply, given that they use the river water to irrigate their plants; and in addition to lost irrigation ability, they would also lose their supply of fish.
Environmentally speaking, it has been even worse: the pollution from the actual construction has been and will continue to be very harmful, and then there are problems to be dealt with for as long as the dam exists, and in some cases, even longer. Some examples are the dangers of the discharge channel, water-borne diseases, the loss of ferry earnings, the number of animals killed…the list goes on.
What must also be taken into consideration are the feelings of the region’s inhabitants. There have been protests from the start, and at times, these protests have been met with violence, both from the police and from KenGen guards. Four Japanese journalists and four Kenyan journalists were arrested for trying to assess the impact of the Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric project on the environment after fervent disapproval of the project by the local community.
One area resident, Mzee Johana Odhiambo said, “They have interfered with the river so that our animals are now not free to drink water anywhere they choose. The heavy construction traffic is a danger to children crossing the roads.”
According to the 3 July 2000 issue of the East African Standard, “The present implementation structure [of the dam] and policy has made Nyakach people and others to feel like they are resident in an occupied colony.”
Many area residents are also upset due to unfair compensation for their land after they were forced to move. (As of 8 January 2001, 1,000 households had been displaced through involuntary resettlement.)
Extremely worrisome is that area workers taking casual jobs with the construction of the dam have been forced to move to market centers away from their families. This, coupled with the influx of money into the region, has created a rise in the level of extra-marital sex, and thus a surge in the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS.
Financially speaking, 80% of the project’s funding is coming from the Japanese government through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).
After coming under intense pressure from various people and organizations, the Japanese government has decided to ask the Kenyan government to form a committee “to address substantial issues with regard to the operation of this project.” The committee is to reflect the ideas and concerns of NGOs and local residents in order to address the issues that may arise.
The Japanese government has also requested that an investigative committee be assembled in order to address the matters of corruption and violence: “As to the graft and the violation of human rights seen at the Phase I of this project, we are urging the Government of Kenya to proceed with a fact-finding investigation.” The Technical Committee is currently investigating the allegations of corruption, and judicial proceedings may clarify the fact pattern of the human rights violations.
These agencies have come under intense pressure to stop funding the construction of the dam until a more thorough environmental impact assessment is carried out.
Currently, funding for phase II of the operation is being withheld by the Japanese government based on a lack of faith in the Kenyan economy, reports of graft and corruption, and the violation of human rights in the dam region.
Local residents and NGOs are in favor of completion, but want several important issues, such as environmental impact and worker rights, addressed.
In the end, it is important that the Sondu-Miriu Hydro Power Project (SMHPP) be sustainable. The influx of workers (and money) into the region has resulted in a lot of establishments being built especially for them, i.e. restaurants, bars, rental houses, etc. When the project is completed, and all but the 100 necessary workers have left, what will happen to these establishments? What will happen to the people that run them? The outcome will be grim.
Please visit KenGen web site http://www.
→→Also see Japanese Involvement in the Project
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