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Why push for Lamu coal must lose steam

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PURITY WANJOHI

By PURITY WANJOHI
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In June 2019, the National Environment Tribunal halted the government’s plan to set up a coal plant in Lamu.

The project was rejected because it failed to comply with the law: there was lack of public participation, omission of key plans and disregard for the Climate Change Act.

When I heard of this plan, I was appalled. First, as an environmentalist, because of how destructive coal is to the environment and its inhabitants, and second as a Kenyan citizen because the government wasn’t keen to protect its citizens from these harmful effects.

Globally, the arguments for coal are notable. It’s abundant, relatively cheap, requires low capital expenditure to build a plant and can create jobs.

These reasons continue to fuel the world’s addiction to coal.

However, its negative impact is not worth the investment, especially here in Kenya. We don’t have the capacity to build and maintain a coal plant.

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First, Kenya lacks the financial capability. This is a debt project that doesn’t make economic sense now or in future.

Besides the debt, the project will cost Kenya foreign exchange earnings. Lamu is a well-known tourist destination.

Having a coal plant there will make it unattractive.

And because polluted air and water can’t be restricted to one county, tourism in the nearby counties and other related industries such as transport, food and entertainment will be affected too. Is this a cost the government has taken into account?

Second, our healthcare system isn’t prepared for coal. Our quality of healthcare is currently hampered by shortages of priority drugs and basic equipment.

If this system isn’t in tip-top shape now, is it in a position to handle the health burden that accompanies a coal plant?

Between consuming poisoned meat, contaminated maize and sewage-grown vegetables, our immune systems aren’t also ready to fight such diseases.

Third, the state of our environment shows that Kenya isn’t in a position to handle coal pollution. An excellent example is the Nairobi River, which is laden with pollutants.

Four, it’s a project whose time is coming to an end. The world is working hard to move away from “dirty” fuels due to climate change.

It’s therefore preposterous for Kenya to be pursuing a coal goal, and ironic because Kenya is a land with plenty of sunshine, hydro, wind and geothermal resources.

We’re better off investing in renewable energy, something Kenya is known for.

“Kenya has no place for coal!” This is what the tribunal should have told Amu Power, the company developing the project, instead of asking them to conduct a fresh environmental impact assessment.

This means that the project has just been delayed. Coal is a dirty source of fuel. It shouldn’t be an option for Kenya.

Ms Wanjohi is the founder of Mazingira Safi Initiative.