Kenya: Environmental Compliance is a Necessity, not an Option
Kenyans have awakened to the need for environmental compliance. This is evident in the ongoing debates on various environmental issues. There is now a realization that economic development and environmental issues are inseparable and reconciling laws and policies governing the broader sectors are vital if environmental degradation is to be arrested. This is in turn crucial in order to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and in extension sustainable development.
Several incidents in recent weeks around environmental compliance – or the lack thereof – has brought environmental concerns on to the public arena. The slaughterhouse community in Dagoretti, Nairobi, will not easily forget August 13 2008 – the day five slaughterhouses were closed down by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for the non-compliance to environmental regulations and non-adherence to the specified ultimatum to have waste treatment plants in place. Riots broke out and protesters who accused the government of punishing them by taking away their jobs burned down a police station. One man reportedly committed suicide fearing the prospect of loosing his job.
Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga meanwhile recently addressed delays in environmental projects and said environmentalists should realize that total conservation is unachievable, but sustainable development is indeed attainable if Kenya is to evade severe hunger, homelessness, disease and death in the years ahead. Further afield Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni recently ordered the implementation of the controversial US$860 million Bujagali Hydro-electric power station, despite serious concerns from environmentalists. Underlying this debate is the question surrounding compromise or confrontation on environmental law. How can environmental compliance be achieved without protests and without compromising on immediate economic needs?
EMCA-1999 is Kenya’s framework legislation that coordinates all environmental management activities in the country. It accentuates the right of every person in Kenya to live in a clean and healthy environment and obliges each and every one to safeguard and enhance the environment. EMCA – 1999 was passed timely as to avoid controversies of existing sectoral Acts and provide clear environmental legislation. Since independence Kenya, like many other developing countries, lacked clearly defined policies and laws on environmental protection and where it existed, it conflicted with other policies and laws. A good example is Kenya’s Water Act that seeks to provide proper management of water resources including wetlands, but it is not compatible with the role of wetlands as ecological filters. Wetlands are fast being converted to agricultural land.
Environmental Management Tools (EMTs) need to be developed to assist in environmental management and be identified as key components for sustainable development. It is however worth noting that currently most countries have in place concrete EMTs, environmental laws and policies, treaties, conventions and protocols. However, just how effective and adequate have EMTs proved to be in preventing further threats to the local, national, regional and global environment and in ensuring the health and security of citizens, remains to be seen.
According to section 58 of EMCA, second schedule 9 (i), and Environmental (Impact Assessment and Audit) Regulation, 2003, new projects as listed under the 2nd schedule must undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) while ongoing projects must undergo Environmental Auditing (EA). The Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) and Environmental Audit Report (EAR) are then submitted for review by NEMA which then approves or disapproves a project. This is very necessary since many forms of developmental activities in fact damage the environment.
However, many questions remain
Are these tools for example not applicable to cross-border issues and to the many offences linked to organized criminal structures in Africa? How often do Eco-labeling and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) apply to the use of products and materials? Has Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) impacted on policies, plans and programmes carried out in Africa?
One of the strategies that has been implemented successfully in developed countries in civilizing environmental protection and ensuring environmental compliance is the use of directives for investors. Before accepting any contract from a company or any other high impact enterprise, a compliance programme status is a pre-requisite. If a company cannot prove to be environmentally compliant, it may be at risk of losing valuable contracts, as is the case with the waste collector company suspected to have dumped hazardous waste in the Nyeri neighbourhood. It was warned on 1st Sept, 2008 that is will loose its contract with one of the hospitals implicated if it is proved to be guilty of the illegal disposal.
Environmental enforcers and civil organizations have a key role to play in helping companies, hospitals and organizations to streamline the need for compliance before there is further damage to the environment. The time to get serious about environmental compliance is now, not after the environmental investigators and enforcers have arrived. Environmental authorities should work proactively and ensure that such visits and investigations are frequent, until such time that organizations, industries, companies and hospitals find the need to adhere to compliance programs themselves.
*Beatrice Chemutai is an Intern with the Environmental Security Programme, Nairobi Office of the Institute for Security Studies.