Kenyan Government Fights Payout for Slum’s Lead Poisoning

Residents of a Mombasa slum won a landmark payout in July over pollution by a lead smelter that poisoned locals. Kenya’s government was ordered to pay $12 million to residents within 90 days because of its failure to enforce environmental regulations with the smelter, which closed in 2014. But the government has appealed the decision.Authorities shut down the lead smelter run by Kenya Metal Refineries EPZ Limited in 2014 due to severe pollution and after several deaths that locals blamed on lead poisoning.    But it wasn’t until this past July that an environmental and land court awarded the residents of Mombasa’s Owino Uhuru slum a $12 million payout.    It was the first time the Kenyan government was ordered to compensate victims for failing to stop pollution, setting a precedent for future claims. The celebration, however, was short-lived as Kenya’s attorney general’s office said it was dissatisfied with the decision and planned to appeal.  Anastasia Nambo, a resident at the informal settlement, says the appeal has dashed their hopes for an early settlement.  She says the government has shown that it does not value the residents of the settlement. People in the community are still suffering as a result, but the government has disregarded all this. Nambo says if the government was concerned about their welfare, they would have settled the claim but, instead, they are abusing the court process through the appeal.    Forty-eight-year-old Nambo, a mother of four, says the pollution gave her constant migraines and body aches, and she can no longer afford her pain medication. Nambo says her entire family has been affected. They were all tested and found to have been poisoned by the emissions from the lead factory. She says her children’s memories were affected, leading to poor performance in school, and they also complain of joint aches and migraines every day.Smoke from the smelter discolored rooftops and a 2015 report by lawmakers said water in the area was contaminated by lead. The court in July also ordered Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to clean up remaining pollution. But the government’s appeal has put that clean-up effort in doubt.  Kenya activist group Center for Justice Governance & Environmental Action (CJGEA) helped locals with suing the government. Tom Ooko is the programs officer at CJGEA. He spoke to VOA about the case.“It’s been like a decade of suffering for these people,” said Ooko. “When they continue prolonging this more people will continue to suffer and more will die. It also means that there’s no closure for the families that lost their loved ones, and also there’s no health and continuity of sustainable life in this community is at risk.”  The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the appeal and requests for comment from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) went unanswered.   

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