By Njiraini Muchira
“This judgment has brought a lot of happiness for the people of Lamu,” Mohammed Athman, board member of the Save Lamu lobby, summed up the June 25 ruling by Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal (NET) that revoked the licence granted to Amu Power Company to build a coal power plant in Lamu on the Kenyan coast.
The ruling came just days after a group of activists congregating around the deCOALinise movement held demonstrations in the streets of Nairobi opposing the plant and presented a petition to Ministry of Energy and the Chinese Embassy.
Omar Elmawi, deCOALonise campaign co-ordinator, said that there is no need to build centralised dirty sources of energy such as coal to answer to Kenya’s energy demands, “especially when the country is taking the lead in Africa with an 85 per cent renewable energy base.”
With the setback to the Lamu project, there are doubts about the vast deposits in Kitui County in the southeast lowlands, as the opposition to dirty fuels gains momentum.
Threats of global warming and related greenhouse gas emissions have prompted countries, including the US, China and India, to start scaling down electricity generation from coal, which is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.
Ironically, the US government has been supporting the Lamu project, where American giant General Electric has pumped money with a promised of ensuring clean coal. US ambassador Kyle McCarter went on Twitter to argue in a string of tweets that coal is environmentally sound, that the plant would boost the country’s economy and that a critical analysis of the plant from a clean energy think tank amounted only to the work of “highly paid protestors.”
“Coal is the cleanest and least costly option,” Mr McCarter wrote from his official Twitter account. “Investors will come.”
It’s unclear what lobbying — if any — Mr McCarter could have engaged in behind the scenes to promote the coal-fired power plant, but the voice of the US government carries weight.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is pushing the world to reduce electricity generation from coal by two-thirds by 2030, and a near-total phasing out by 2050, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
In the Kenyan ruling, the tribunal was categorical that Amu Power had failed to undertake a conclusive environment and social impact assessment (ESIA) on the impact of the planned 1,050MW plant on the Lamu ecosystem, which is recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The tribunal also castigated the National Environmental Management
Authority (Nema) for issuing the licence despite the fact that the ESIA was never subjected to proper and effective public participation in accordance to the law.
“The approval of the ESIA study and the consequent issue of the ESIA licence and its conditions failed to meet the requirements of the law,” ruled the tribunal.
Though the ruling sparked jubilation among environmentalists, conservationists and non-governmental organisations opposed to the controversial plant, there is still hope for the project.
Amu Power still has the opportunity to undertake a fresh ESIA.
The company is not ready to give up the project, having signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with distributor Kenya Power and Lighting company.
Cyrus Kirima, Amu Power chief operating officer told The EastAfrican that they were looking at the judgement to “see if we can implement the conditions set before making a decision on the project.”
While the forces opposed to the plant are strong and are riding on sensitive issues of human and other natural living species’ survival, the project has the backing of influential forces. The plant has the backing of China, which is bankrolling its construction while its agency Power Construction Corporation of China is providing the technology, equipment and expertise.
Kenya says it is critical in meeting the country’s needs for cheap, accessible and reliable electricity. In May 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta witnessed the signing of the $2 billion financing deal by the Industrial Commercial Bank of China in Beijing.
Also fronting the project is the US conglomerate GE, which has invested $400 million for a 20 per cent stake and is providing technology that it says is efficient with the least possible environmental impact.
Locally, Centum Investments and Gulf Energy are among the key investors.
In the wake of the ruling, GE has opted to play safe, stating that it remains committed to supporting Amu Power and the Kenyan government on the project which will use the most efficient steam power technology in operation today ensuring that the plant meets global and Kenya’s environmental standards.
“At GE we respect the choices that countries make regarding their energy mix and fuel sources. Once countries have chosen the fuel that best meets their energy, cost and sustainability needs, we are pleased to support them with the most efficient technology that has the least possible environmental impact,” a GE spokesperson told The EastAfrican.
Amid the controversies, commercial and other interests, the question in the minds of many is what exactly is at stake and which is the better evil for Kenya: Abandoning or pursuing the project.
By all accounts, all odds seem to be against the plant. When it was conceived in 2015, Kenya was pursing an ambitious plan to add 5,000MW to the grid and the plant was marketed as ideal in that it would contribute 1,050MW of cheap power at $7.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
The shelving of the plan and refocusing energy investments to green alternatives like geothermal, wind and solar has seen the coal plant become a baggage the country could do without.
In fact, with Kenya grappling with excess capacity, the reality has dawned on the stakeholders that building the plant might not translate into cheap electricity but could end up as a “costly error,” going by a research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEFA).
“Building the proposed Lamu coal plant would be a costly error for the country, locking it into a 25-year PPA that would force electricity consumers to pay more than $9 billion, even if Lamu doesn’t generate any power, as long as it is available for dispatch,” said IEFA in a report.
COST OF AGREEMENT
It added the existing PPA would force Kenya to pay at least $360 million in annual capacity charges, even if no power is generated at the plant.
The government, in its Updated Least Cost Power Development Plan 2017-2037, has also admitted that building the plant will result in excess power, going by the current demand of 8.5 per cent per annum.
The loud voices across the globe against coal, which is the number one source of air pollution worldwide and had adverse effects on people’s health, pollutes water resources and contributes to the climate change crisis, has even forced development partners to develop coal feet in supporting the project.
Mid last year, US legislators petitioned the African Development Bank (AfDB) not to offer the risk guarantee for the project, arguing that it will emit as much as 8.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The AfDB seems to have heeded the growing opposition and as a proponent of clean sources of energy and committed to environmental conservation, it has remained cagey on the guarantee.
For Lamu County, where the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) corridor begins, the consensus is largely that the coal plant will be a disaster for the Unesco World Heritage Site.
The county, covering an area of 6,273km² with a population of 112,252 people, cannot afford an influx of people and the mushrooming of uncontrolled economic activities that will sprout as a result of the plant.
To many people, Lamu is a paradise that has opted to cling to traditions dating back centuries while its rich biodiversity is something to marvel.
The archipelago known for its Lamu Old Town, the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa — blending African, Arab, and Indian traditions — and where donkeys are the preferred mode of transport, is a major tourist attraction particularly, during the annual Lamu Cultural Festival.
Most earn a living from farming and fishing, and have committed to preserve the biodiversity of coral reefs, mangrove forests and marine life.
Mohamed Mbwana of Save Lamu reckons that building the coal plant will wipe out all the beautiful things about Lamu.
“Our cultural heritage and livelihoods are threatened. The Lamu coal plant will ruin tourism and Lamu Old Town, destabilising the county’s economy and the environment,” he said.
While the jury is still out about the fate the coal plant, across the globe countries have embarked on phasing out the dirty fossil fuel.
Germany has announced plans to shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 while the US, Japan and India have developed programmes to cut down on coal.
China, world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has steadily reduced the share of coal in the energy mix from 64 per cent in 2015 to 59 per cent currently.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.