Kenya: Kwale Probes Mining Firms as One River Turns Yellow

13 March 2015

The allure of Kwale is not entirely in its picturesque hills and grasslands. To investors with deep pockets, it is in the rare earths, niobium, titanium, oil, gas and coal, all buried underneath the coastal county.

The poor residents now hope, as the minerals are exploited, they too will have a taste of Kwale’s inner beauty.

But experts worry the residents may be staring at a lose-lose situation if the minerals are not exploited properly.

The picturesque Mrima Hill in Kwale County is among the top five regions in the world with rare earth deposits, with a potential in-ground value of up to Sh5.4 trillion, according to a report released last year by Cortec Mining Company.

Elsewhere, Base Titanium company is already exporting thousands of its ilmenite, Zircon and Rutile minerals from its Kwale sand project.

Whenever mining take place, there is always the risk of destruction of the environment.

Resources like water and forests are the most at risk if firms exploit minerals without regard to biodiversity.

Mkurumudzi River, which flows water from Shimba Hills, has already been affected by other miners and sugarcane plantations in the area. The water levels have gone down and sometimes the river turns yellow.

Msambweni farmers spokesperson Juma Kirozo says the river provides water for cattle, drinking and fishing.

He says more than 1,200 people are already facing water shortage in Msambweni.

Kirozo says the river is almost dry and has no fish, affecting locals in Msambweni, Fingirika and Vumbu.

“We cannot get fish from the river anymore since mining activities started here,” claimed Kirozo.

He says the river also had other reptiles like crocodiles and hippos.

One mining firm has allegedly blocked water from the river and redirected it to its dam.

Locals say this is illegal and ruthless.

“The two companies that have constructed dams take all water from the river and so it is not easy for us to get fish like before. I think they want us to depend on relief food always from the government,” Kirozo says.

Seif Reja, a resident of Msambweni, says biodiversity is also affected because other animals like snakes, lizards and some birds have also disappeared.

“Since the two companies are clearing the entire region either for planting of sugar cane or for extracting minerals it is obvious that all wild animals living there are affected. At first we thought it was only people who were affected but animals are mostly affected,” said Reje.

He suspects mining firms may be using poisonous substances while cleaning extracted minerals, which may have killed the fish.

“Recently we saw many fish floating dead on the Mkurumudzi River,” Reje said.

The situation, Juma Kirozo says, has also forced sea fish, mostly found at the corals along the beach, to move deeper into the sea.

“Now the bad thing we are experiencing is that we cannot drink the water, water our cattle or even use it for domestic purposes because it is affected,” said Kirozo.

He says recently, some locals developed stomach problems after drinking the contaminated water.

Kwale International Sugar Company general manager Jonathan Parking said the company is promoting environment conservation by planting trees in the area.

Environmental degradation by some firms has attracted the attention of Kwale County governor Salim Mvurya, who instructed environment officials to investigate and take necessary steps urgently.

Mvurya says his team will come up with recommendations on the issue of water in the area as they await findings by other national government organs on the same.

“Although there are resources found like minerals by Cortec mining company, it’s activities in Mrima Hill forest should not affect our forests because we depend mostly on them,” he said.

Kwale County Natural Resource Network chairperson Mohamed Pakia says they have launched a strategic plan to ensure natural resources in the area benefit locals without harming the environment.

County executive officer for land and mineral resources Ali Mafimbo says that conservation of the environment is everyone’s job.