Long wait for Owino Uhuru slum poisoning billions as appeal filed

The Kenya Metal Refinery Factory which was closed after fears it had have poisoned the residents of Owino Uhuru slum.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The decision is a huge setback to the affected families who have been waiting patiently for the compensation
  • The Environment court found that emissions from the lead smelter left many residents with irreversible health conditions while others died.
  • The court said Nema helped the factory breach the law instead of holding it to account.

Slum dwellers awarded Sh1.3 billion for being poisoned by a refinery will have to wait a longer for the money after the government appealed the ruling.

The court found that emissions from the lead smelter left many residents of Owino Uhuru slum in Mombasa with irreversible health conditions while others died. 

However, the Attorney-General’s office says it is aggrieved with the award and will be seeking to have it overturned by the Court of Appeal.

“Take notice that the AG being dissatisfied with the decision of the Environment and Land Court, intends to appeal... against the same,” the notice says.

The decision is a huge setback to the affected families who have been waiting patiently for the compensation.

Justice Ann Omollo in July ruled that the government pays 70 per cent of the award after finding its agencies failed to discharge their duties.

Failed in its mandate

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) was found to have failed in its mandate, thus exposing the slum residents to the poison.

Metal Refineries (EPZ) Ltd was directed to pay 25 per cent of the total amount for being the direct source of the poison while Penguin Paper and Book Company will settle the remaining five per cent for leasing out its land to the smelter.

The court said Nema helped the factory breach the law instead of holding it to account.

It added that the authority made procedural blunders that eventually resulted in a disaster, which will cost the government millions of shillings to rectify.

Documents relied on in the case indicate that everything went wrong from the initial stages of the project’s approval as no measures were put in place to protect the environment and the community.

Instead of showing that due diligence was done, the State agencies involved in the matter blamed the victims for their continued stay in an area zoned as industrial and failing to move out after learning of the pollution.

Uhuru Owino locals sued the government and the two private companies over the emissions, which they said led to deaths.

They filed the case through Justice Governance and Environmental Action executive director Phyllis Omido in 2016.

Sh2 billion compensation

The Owino Uhuru slum residents had asked for Sh2 billion in compensation, saying EPZ poisoned the entire village by discharging toxic gases and liquids into the environment.

The petitioners said more than 20 slum residents died while many more suffered illnesses and impairment directly attributed to the poisonous substances.

There was no framework in place when the refinery was licensed and the government had just begun working on an environmental policy.

The policy came into effect in 2013, putting into question the document that gave the ministry confidence in issuing a permit as well as advising the EPZ Authority to allow the refinery to operate.

The Ministry of Health was also penalised for failing to close the factory even after finding out that it was emitting toxins into the environment.

It also did not order the removal of tonnes of sludge on a river bed when its officials visited the factory following complaints.

The ministry was faulted for failing to provide treatment for the villagers.


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