Blue Economy Conference; flowery speeches, little action

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BY DAVID ONJILI

Nairobi hosted the first global conference on Sustainable Blue Economy where over 18, 000 participants from more than 180 countries from across the globe attended. The aim of the conference was to seek ways to harness the potential of the world’s oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to improve the lives of all.

The backbone to a blue economy is finding the middle road between sustainability and economic growth with regards to water resources. This can be achieved with the help of innovation and use of new technologies that must serve in reducing carbon emissions as we switch to more sustainable energy sources.

“Further, oceans, seas and lakes support livelihoods, food security and nutrition, employment, 90% of maritime trade and transportation, and counteract the impacts of climate change and carbon reservoirs,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking while opening the conference attended by several African Heads of State.

The blue economy’s major focus is on environmental issues especially human relationship with water and all its forms. While such speeches are colourful and good for public sentiment, it is what these governments do that really depicts the commitment of the leaders.  The Jubilee Government for instance is currently toying with plans to construct a coal plant in Kwasasi area of Lamu, which amounts double speak.

The oddity of this is that the Lamu coal project has met stiff opposition from both the locals and environmentalists but despite all this, the Government seems intent on pushing on with it. Questions abound as to what is its economic viability – 1050 Mw power – as opposed to the amount of pollution the plant will emit to the environment given the proximity of the plant to the Indian Ocean coastline.

Man has been at the forefront of destruction of natural resources and the ecosystems. The depletion of the Congo and the Mau forests in Central Africa and Kenya respectively is an example of this wanton greed. Profit has been at the forefront at the expense of the common.

Around October 10, 2016, then Opposition figure Raila Odinga raised an alarm that the Jubilee Government was secretly building a tunnel at the source of Abedare forest to divert water to Thika’s Ndakaini Dam for use in Nairobi. Named the Northern Collector Tunnel, it was classified as a Category A project by the World Bank due to its sensitivity and destruction potential to the environment.

According to Mr Odinga, this tunnel was going to adversely affect River Tana as it target seven of its feeder rivers. What has certainly made the government so environmental and water conscious in such a short span?

It must be noted that the Kenyan section of Lake Victoria, one of the world’s largest fresh water lakes remains covered in a carpet of hyacinth.

Hyacinth deprives of the water the necessary oxygen, which fish require when breathing; this thus means the fish have to move away to clear waters for both light and oxygen. To date, the Government, both national and county have never seen it fit to commercially harvest the hyacinth and use it to produce biogas.

The 2000 square meter Migingo island in the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria is another illustration of the lack of seriousness by the Government to maximize and help the communities around water bodies. It remains a subject of territorial war between both Kenya and Uganda. The brutality with which Kenyan fishermen have to endure at the hands of the Ugandan military is disheartening. Kenya’s head of state has never been firm to handle this issue once and for all with his Ugandan counterpart. This is despite both Presidents being present and giving speeches at the Blue Economy Conference 2018 in Nairobi.

There is a ray of light though; the stability experienced along the Kenyan coastline especially toward Somalia with regards to Al-Shaabab is heartwarming. It will enable fish harvesters to go deep into the ocean to fish.

Mombasa County Governor, Ali Hassan Joho, together with the KCB Foundation, some two years ago they launched the Sh15 million worth MV Mombasa 00 that was envisaged to increase fish harvesting to over 40,000 Kilograms per month. With Kenya allowed to fish some 200 nautical miles into the ocean, the government must increase the amount of fish it harvests by enabling farmers purchase such equipment, be it through Saccos, so that the huge fish deficit is not filled by the now increasing imports of Chinese fish.

Kenya requires close to 1 million tonnes of fish annually against a production of 200,000 tonnes, the deficit is met by Chinese imports. A report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics last year showed that the country had spent $10.2 million just to import Chinese fish and was ranked among the top 20 importers of Chinese fish.

Ultimately, the government must now walk the talk. Why is it that we do not have fish processing plant in areas like Kisumu that harvest plenty of fish? The upgrading of the Kisumu International Airport is a good thing for fish export business.

While a step in the right direction, the Jubilee administration needs to do much when it comes to harnessing water resources. From the look of things, they are not.