Friday, April 19, 2024

A Twisted Reality- Coal Power In Kenya Is A Fuss

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As the world moves towards renewable energy as part of curbing carbon emissions to cut global warming, Kenya is still struggling with coal mining industries. The discovery of an estimated 400 million tons of commercially viable coal reserves in Block C in Mui Basin, with an estimated value of 3.4 trillion in 2010, was seen as a major breakthrough in making Kenya an industrial hub. However, the big question remains: Is coal mining sustainable?

Has it ever occurred to you what happens to the people living around the mines and manufacturing industries of the coal-related electricity we all enjoy countrywide? Of course, we assume that they are as happy as we all are or even more.

READ: End Coal Mining

Here is the wakeup call

Communities living around coal-mining industries have nothing to smile about.

While they are intimately affected by coal-related diseases and pollution, they do not have access to electricity and water. They breathe in contaminated air from the very polluted mines that provide electricity for our country, yet they sit in the dark, paying with their health for a service they cannot access.

According to a report by Greenpeace Africa, communities living at the doorstep of coal washeries- sites where coal is washed ‘clean’ before it is used in coal plants, other heavy industries or exported, suffer tremendous health effects but yet still cannot access the very benefits of the coal.

The coal extracted is used to make electricity. Yet these communities have no access to electricity. The mines use a lot of water- but they do not have water. How does this happen? It hurts even at the mention of this fact. It is even more stressful to note that everything they need as a community is there. These communities wish they could get a chance to live as humans but that is a dream they keep hoping it would come to reality someday, which we do not know when.

The washing of coal is an intensive process that uses vast amounts of water, leaving behind the giant, lifeless dams poisoned with hazardous chemicals. It is far from the ideal place to be living –especially for families with young children. But communities have lived here for 20 years, long before there were mines and washeries. In these 20 years, most of them do not even have access to tap water- but the washeries across the path get all they need in surplus amounts.

What is sadder…

The sad reality, however, is that many people cannot move away; many choose to stay put. Over the years, communities have grown in between the mines and coal stacks and many families are now directly dependent on them for work.

This is the sad reality that awaits the people of Lamu and Kitui. The toll effects that the coal-related industries pose to communities and the climate out-weigh their benefits. Health bills and climate change are on the rise and this should act as a red flag for our country. There are better technologies that we can embrace other than coal.

The use of coal in Africa, like most developments in the continent, was a concept that originated from developed Western nations two or three centuries back. Coal was the fuel that drove the Industrial Revolution and brought to life steam-powered engines and a myriad of other technologies that make life what it is today.

The paradox of it is that it also powered the discovery of renewable energy technologies. Unlike its counterparts, the renewable energy is environmentally friendly, cheap and does not impose severe health effects to the communities. With research, this kind of technologies- wind, solar and hydropower are highly acknowledged.

In Kenya however, it has not been easy to stem out coal mining. The government ironically still advocates for coal mining despite knowing the effects. With an excuse that the coal mining industry is the answer to the industrial revolution, two more projects have been approved, which need to be


Anti-coal protesters in Lamu Kenya. Photo by deCOALonize

deCOALonize is a coalition of environmental and social justice that advocates the concerns about the increasing interest in coal power production and exploration in Kenya and in particular the coal projects in Lamu and Kitui. This campaign provides information both offline and online to local communities, policy makers, academics and civil society on alternatives to coal and for embracing clean energy in Kenya.

READ: Policy poses a fresh headache for Sh200b Lamu coal plant

Coal-power plants could become a financial liability sooner than 2050, perhaps much sooner. The climate change costs of coal will only increase in the coming years making renewable energy technologies a better option for Kenyans.

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