Strengthening environmental governance within the extractives sector is key to reaping optimal benefits

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Yusuf Kanote Huka has worked as miner for the last 30yrs, in Mungama ridge, Taita-Taveta County. Majority of artisenal miners in Kenya use rudimentary tools which make the process laborious and time consuming. Photo: UNDP Kenya/Allan Gichigi

Kenya’s prospects for the extractives industry are promising, though since independence, the modest portfolio of minerals has made only a marginal contribution to the GDP. Gold, which flourished during the colonial period, in the Western parts of Kenya even resulted to one of its geographical Constituency regions being named ‘Ikolomani’, which is a loose adulteration of the English word ‘gold mine’, as the locals could not pronounce it correctly. Other minerals in relative quantities include Fluorspar and Soda ash found in various parts of the Rift Valley, and most recently Titanium, in Kwale County within the coastal region. While Kitui and Lamu County have been earmarked as potential coal producers, much to the contestation by climate change advocates, due to the impact of coal mining on the environment.

The discovery of viable oil and gas deposits in Turkana, and reports suggesting that there may be significant deposits within the Nyanza belt has propelled Kenya’s prospects to the league of rich resource nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. As active exploration continues in the Rift Valley, there is need for expert opinion to guide consensus on the sharing of proceeds between the local communities and the government to ensure that the newly found resources benefits all.

Sustainable extraction of these mineral and oil and gas resources is expected to provide significant resources which can greatly boost economic performance, contributing towards poverty reduction. Examples abound of countries which continue to tap from their great resource windfalls, by using innovative financial management mechanisms, which have helped them avert the challenges associated with unsustainable extractive practices, such as the Dutch-Disease syndrome. This globally common phenomenon, is where extractive resource discoveries have in the long-term impacted negatively on the economies of some countries, through the direct injection of funds from the resource discoveries into the economy, and on the flipside drastically affecting other sectors of the economy. Consequently, in some of these countries, extractives industry activities are seemingly displacing all the other important economic sectors, leading to a growth in rent-seeking, and the distortion of economic drivers. The impacts of an unmanaged extractive sector, especially to developing nations of Kenya’s stature on the economic front are well documented and the global lessons emerging should be taken into consideration through strengthening of environmental governance policies and practices.

Most mineral, oil and gas resources are to be found in fragile ecosystems, such as the marine environments with rich reef and marine ecosystems, forested areas, hilly terrains, and or areas with rich cultural and heritage significance. However, with lack of  adequate policies and enforcement of laws to govern the extractives sector, there are harsh environmental impacts on such eco-systems, with vulnerable populations bearing the disproportionate burden of social, economic and environmental risks. In addition, extraction requires a lot of water resources, often leading to damming of existing waterways, that are greatly impacting on downstream and upstream communities. There is always looming dangers of contaminated water resources, with attendant challenges associated with pollution that have long term health impacts on users. Many examples already abound, with some cirtical health and safety issues emerging with reports of miners having been trapped by landslides in mining sites or others who have been affected by fuel fumes from the generators that light the shafts. Besides, while Kenya’s mining act 2016 prohibits use of mercury for gold mining, small scale miners are yet to find alternatives; exposing them to health risks as extensive use of mercury takes takes its toll.

Consequently, strengthening environmental governance in the extractive sector is all the more critical.

The inability to identify and resolve potential negative impacts of the extractive sectors to the environment is attributed to failures in stringent environmental governance regulations; and generally inadequate capacities among key state environmental protection agencies. Some of the identified gaps in environmental governance around extractives include poorly designed and enforced policies and weak regulatory and accountability frameworks. The other critical challenge is the failure to uphold rights of citizens – particularly vulnerable, marginalized and poorer communities, women, and local communities who highly depend on eco-systems for their livelihoods. These groups need a clear mechanism – to facilitate the fair sharing of mining benefits, access to information and substantive means of engagement, appeal and redress against decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.

While the prospects of developing the extractives sector into a major earner for Kenya is promising, the envisaged impacts on the environmental as well as the observed weaknesses in workable laws, regulations and policies requires urgent attention. This will  strengthen environmental governance that not only protects the environment but also ensures that there is sustainability of the sector that is profitable without visiting detrimental impacts to local communities.

UNDP in collaboration with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA) and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) is working to integrate environmental and social concerns into broader sustainable development policy making in Kenya, Mozambique, Mongolia and Colombia. In Kenya, the project is partnering with the Ministry of Mining, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and various local actors including the Kenyan Human Rights Commission strengthen the environmental, gender, human rights and rule of law dimensions of public administration work in large-scale mining sectors.

This project has started registering positive results. A key development is the finalization of a Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) for the mining sector which is a useful instrument for integrating environmental considerations within the sector. In addition, Kenya through the initiative has completed an assessment of user’s journey through the Kenyan mining licensing process and identification of entry points for participation of right holders -  the Kenya Mining cycle.

These tools and instruments are critical, in helping Kenya chart a pathway that will steer the country to reaping optimal benefits from its recent resource discoveries. It is our hope, that Kenya will learn from the successes of countries like Norway and Sweden that have benefitted immensely from their natural resources, and avoid the mistakes by other resource rich countries that are yet to harvest from the resource rich dividend.

Read more on: Extractives and environmental governance, a photo story.

 



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