Makueni farmers to wait longer to use River Thange

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Makueni farmers who depend on the River Thange for irrigation will have to wait longer before resuming farming, a task force on the oil spill that polluted the river basin four years ago has said.

The decision, reached during a meeting last Tuesday, was informed by a report indicating that the river water, the soils and the underground water in the area are still contaminated by petroleum products, months after a company contracted by Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) to clean the area left the site.

The study, commissioned by KPC and undertaken by SGS Kenya Ltd, an environmental integrity testing company, shows a significant reduction in the amounts of total petroleum hydrocarbons (Tph) since July 2017 when the results of the study were published, and recommends further studies “to reassure the stakeholders of the safety threshold of the water”.

“The trench water samples still have traces of hydrocarbons exceeding the Dutch guideline limits,” the report released in December 2018, referring to global standards in environmental cleanliness, says.

The meeting chaired by Makueni County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim was tasked with looking into how the issues arising from the oil spillage that affected hundreds of farmers scattered in six villages could be managed, and centred on analysing the SGS report.

“The ban (on farming along the river) is still in place until studies show that the area is safe,” Mr Maalim told the Nation after the meeting; the ban was put in place in 2015.

The meeting was attended by the county National Environmental Management Authority Director Patricia Wambua, senior KPC managers, local politicians, and representatives of the affected farmers.

So far, KPC has paid out Sh31,255,681 as compensation to 266 residents of Thange whose farms and livestock were affected, Managing Director Joe Sang said.

Those compensated are among the 4,267 residents who had applied to be paid for losses resulting from the oil spill from a punctured oil pipeline.

The KPC has since repaired the pipeline and has been cleaning the affected river ecosystem through EnviroServ (K) Ltd, a waste management company, until early last year when the company left the site.

The KPC has also spent Sh26 million supplying the affected community with clean water, relief food and bursaries for the last three years to improve its relationship with the affected community.

Farmers and two affected schools have received between Sh2,500 and Sh693,656 each for the crops and livestock losses, according to a payment schedule seen.

The compensation represents 14 percent of the Sh217 million estimated cost of the spillage, according to a 2016 report by Panafcon, a Nairobi-based economic and social impact research firm contracted by KPC to assess the impact of the spillage on the neighbourhood. It contains damning information.