Communities in Kenya Demand Better Engagement on Geothermal Power Plant Project

By John Mwebe and Elias Jika

IAP
IAP
Dec 17, 2018 · 7 min read
A community elder speaks during a meeting with the Rapland comunity to discuss the findings of the community-based research process

Lothike (name changed) is a young man who was born and was raised in the informal settlement of Kambi Turkana village, Naivasha, Kenya. In 2008, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Olkaria IV Geothermal Project identified land in Kambi Turkana village as the resettlement site for indigenous Maasai communities who would be displaced as a result of the project. The existing residents of Kambi Turkana, close to 1000 people, were then forcibly moved from their homes to a nearby location. In 2012, the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project was announced. Without being consulted or included in the project process, Lothike, his family and his fellow villagers have been told by the company — Akiira Geothermal Limited — to move yet again from this settlement to an area not less (or more) than (or at least) 2 kilometers away from the edge of the project site.

Kambi Turkana village is just one of the three communities that is being directly impacted by the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project. The other two are Suswa village and Rapland community, the latter having been previously resettled by Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) through the Olkaria IV Geothermal Project.

Background

Communities living near the Greater Olkaria Geothermal Complex have experienced adverse social and environmental impacts since the introduction of the first geothermal project in the area — the Olkaria Geothermal Power Project — in 1979. The impacts of the projects have ranged from involuntary resettlement of entire families, forced evictions, stripping away of the indigenous Maasai peoples’ traditions and culture and adverse impacts on the environment. These impacts have affected the pastoralist life of the communities.

Community members from Rapland have first-hand knowledge of the value of consultations and community involvement in decision-making processes. Since their relocation, the community’s pastoralist way of life has been affected. From infertile soils and inadequate land for cultivation of crops to air pollution from hydrogen sulphide (that produces a rotten-egg smell), and pollution of rivers from brine, community members have had to contend with many impacts to their lands and livelihoods.

Suswa village has also had its share of the adverse impacts as a result of the projects. The community has reported increased cases of cancer, miscarriages and poisoning of animals. They allege that the dumping of brine and other industrial waste in rivers by KenGen has had negative impacts on the overall health of those living nearby.

Many people of the Kambi Turkana village, just like Lothike, were born in the village and know no other home. Their parents had traveled long distances from different parts of the country to work at the Kedong ranch. When the ranch collapsed in 1994, the workers settled on the land, practicing pastoralism and trade. They have been forcibly evicted more than once by geothermal projects without prior consultations or inclusion in project process or compensation. The land that Kambi Turkana community currently occupies, after relocation, has infertile soils, no access to clean water or roads and lacks social services.

The Project

Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project is the newest of the many geothermal projects in the Greater Olkaria Geothermal Complex, Naivasha, Kenya. The project involves construction of a 70 megawatt electric geothermal power plant. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is preparing a €155 million ($192 million) loan package to the project. The project is yet to be appraised by the EIB Board of Directors, pending the completion of an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the steam field, power plant and transmission lines.

A community elder from Suswa Community notes that the castor oil plant (ricinus communis) has turned poisonous to grazing animals due to industrial waste from previous geothermal projects

The Community-led Research

Narasha Community Development Group (NCDG) with the support of International Accountability Project (IAP) facilitated a community-led research project in the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project affected area in April 2018. The research sought to gauge the community’s level of knowledge and engagement in project processes, and to seek recommendations for mitigating harm before approval of funding by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

IAP and NCDG compiled a preliminary summary of research findings and community recommendations and shared it with Akiira Geothermal Limited through the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. A validation of the research findings was conducted by NCDG, Jaama Resource Initiative and Kenya Human Rights Commission with the support of IAP in October, 2018. A full report will be produced in early 2019. The research makes recommendations on how to involve communities in the process and thereby limit harm. A summary report of the research findings and community recommendations has been shared with the EIB.

Community-led Research Findings

Excerpt for infographic summarizing research findings. See full infographic.

The findings from the community-led research suggest that there are serious gaps in community engagement, consultation and participation in the project process, access to information and mitigation of environmental and social concerns. It is worrying that Akiira Geothermal Limited had not obtained free, prior and informed consent from the communities, given that 44% of the affected persons surveyed identified themselves as indigenous.

Moreover, when consultations did occur, they were not conducted in a manner that prioritized community participation. 64% of respondents indicated that they were not consulted during the design stage of the project. One community elder shared, “when the company came into the village for exploration of the geothermal resource, no one knew what was going on. The company did not get consent from us, the villagers, let alone inform us of their planned activities.”

Kambi Turkana community, despite living in the project area for more than 20 years, have never been recognized as lawful occupants of their land. The community has not been included in the decision making processes the company is holding with the affected communities.

One community member shared, “Our community has not been considered as part of the affected communities. We have been left out in committee representation and any negotiations involving the communities and the company despite our village being within the project affected area.”

Even though consultations were conducted by Akiira Geothermal Limited in the Rapland community and community members had an opportunity to provide their input, they were unable to do so because they reportedly could not clearly grasp the issues as explained by the consultation team. This was because the company had not provided them with project information and documentation. This was evidenced by the statistics that indicated that 58% of survey respondents did not have the information they needed to be able to provide informed opinions and ideas about the project.

One community member notes, “the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment prepared for the exploration programme was not shared with us as affected communities. What we know is through word of mouth. We want this information shared with us.”

Of the respondents, 43% indicated that they may lose their land to the project and 47% anticipate that they may lose their jobs and livelihoods. Additionally, community members from Rapland and Suswa expressed concerns that they may be affected by noise and air pollution emanating from the sulphur hydroxide fumes, brine water and other contaminants from the power plants. In response, a Community Liaison Officer for Akiira Geothermal Limited, who was present during the baraza or community meeting, mentioned that the company had put measures in place to mitigate noise pollution, air pollution and land and water pollution from the industrial waste.

Another pressing issue identified was the company’s unwillingness to hold benefit sharing negotiations with the communities. Akiira Geothermal Limited reportedly proposed to the communities that starting from the project implementation phase they would receive 250,000 Kenya Shillings (USD 2,500) per month per community. The communities feel that this is not sufficient, and wish to hold further negotiations with the company where a percentage — preferably 10% — of the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant benefits will be allocated to them.

Waste drilling water dumping site of Akiira Geothermal Limited’s drilling well in Rapland Community

Recommendations

With a proposed geothermal project, the communities worry that the new project will worsen their quality of life and environment, especially since previous projects’ impacts are yet to be fully addressed. This is why the communities have decried poor engagement and consultation processes undertaken by Akiira Geothermal Limited. While members of the communities are relatively open to the project, they are asking for their better engagement, consultation and meaningful participation in the project process. It is only through involvement of the communities in decision-making processes that the company can actually mitigate the anticipated adverse impacts of the project on the communities and environment.

The communities ask the EIB to ensure that the company fulfills their asks before they approve funding. The communities are relying on the power that EIB has when providing financing to development projects and ensure that the company does not violate their human and environmental rights. It is through the respect, protection and fulfilling of the rights of the affected groups by the company, the EIB and the Government of Kenya, that Lothike, his fellow village members, his family and the entire affected communities can be assured their lives, livelihoods and environment will be protected from harm.

Elias Jika is the Program Coordinator for Southern Africa and the Middle East and North Africa regions at the International Accountability Project.

John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda.

IAP

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IAP

International Accountability Project works to defend the rights, land and livelihoods of people threatened by destructive development projects.

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