By PHILIP MWAKIO
The Lamu archipelago and the lower Tana Delta are emerging as one of the most important and critical economic development frontiers.
Proposed development in this area that are at an advanced stage of planning and about to be rolled out for implementation include the construction of an ultra modern port with associated support infrastructure, large scale agriculture oil and gas development and mineral mining.
A two-day workshop organised by the Kenya Oil and working Group in both Tana Delta and Lamu revealed that communities had mixed reactions to the prospects.
"The Government has intensified its search for oil and gas both offshore and inshore and it is in this pursuit that it has granted oil and gas exploration rights and licenses to a number of multi national oil exploration companies,’’ Hadley Benny Becha , director Community Action for Nature Conservation Organisation (Canco) said.
Area residents spoke against what they termed as threats to their only means of livelihood derived from the Indian ocean waters.
According to Sheikh Alwi, resident of Kipini, on the shoes of the Indian ocean where the Tana river empties its waters into the ocean , there is confusion over oil exploration in the area.
‘’Several firms have been engaged in oil and gas exploration .we are however seeing a trend where companies come with different names but use the same staff.
This is highly suspicious,’’ he said. Another resident, Thaksan Omar said that communities here heavily rely o fishing and farming as their main economic mainstay.
"We suffer when special vessels licensed to conducted oil and gas surveys in the area. Major fishing grounds become no go zones and we end up with reduced fish landings,’’ Omar said.
The Lamu Council of Elders chairman, Mr Hussein Soud challenged the government to ensure that Coastal communities are fully sensitised and involved in projects of such magnitude.
"There appears to be lots of secrecy in oil and gas exploration though we are yet to be fully briefed on the findings so far,’’ he claimed.
According to Energy Ministry’s Chief Geologist, Mr John Omenge, 11 blocks have been licsnsed since October 2008. Ths is out of a total of 24 blocks leased out for exploration.
It is against this background and the rush of multiinternational oil firms that have their eyes positioned on Kenya that the Kenya Oil and Gas Working Group has aggressively continued to enlightened the aspects on environmental as well as social and economic issues arising from the venture.
"Oil and gas development has the potential and is likely to significantly degrade the environment leading to loss of biodiversity resources,’’ Mr Patrick Muraguri, the Kenya Oil and Gas Working Group chairman said.
Muraguri adds that the WWF Tanzania Country office has continued to provide leadership in advocacy and awareness to ensure that the oil and gas development in Eastern Africa is sensitive and responsive to environmental social and economic concerns.
"While the development of oil and gas sector through intensified exploration is welcome for economic development reasons, concerns on environment and social issues arising from oil and gas development have been raised by civil society organisations and local communities,’’ Becha said.
He adds that the groups have become potent advocates for good environmental Governance in the oil and gas development sector.