Soi Safari Lodge at Lake Baringo on this photo taken on July 20, 2020. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Victims of rising lakes in Baringo County have sued the government seeking compensation for losses suffered.

Kituo Cha Sheria and Reuben Chepkonga filed a suit at the  Environment and Lands Court on behalf of 66 affected residents of Bartum and Il’ngarwa locations in Marigat, Baringo County.

The complainants through lawyers Omondi Owino and John Mwariri claim that members of the Ilchamus and Tugen communities are living in misery after their homes and properties were swallowed by the swelling Lake Baringo.

The locals claim that in May 2020 the water levels in the lake rose to unprecedented levels and submerged roads, agricultural fields, grazing areas, at least seven schools, health facilities and several centres.

They have named the CS Ministry of Environment and Forestry, National Environment Management Authority (Nema), CS Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Urban Development and Public Works, County Government of Baringo, CS Lands, National Land Commission and Land Settlement Fund Board of Trustees as respondents in the case.

“The petitioners’ lands have been submerged in Il’ngarua, Salabani, Ngambo, Kiserian, Rugus, Longiwan sub-locations occasioning them extreme loss. They have lost seed maize and about 5,000 acres of land and have been displaced from their ancestral lands and some are now internally displaced persons at Sirinyo IDP camp,” reads the petition in part.

Shrinking habitat

The petitioners claim the swelling lake resulted in the loss of over 300 goats for every household. Cases of attacks by wild animals also increased as a result of the shrinking habitat.

They say that in order to stave off climate disaster risks, the government has adopted various frameworks including the National Climate Change Response Strategy 2010.

The  Constitution and the Environmental Management and Coordination Act No. 8 of 1999, they said, obligate the government to eliminate processes and activities that are likely to endanger the environment, initiate and evolve procedures and safeguards to prevent accidents that may cause environmental degradation, and evolve remedies where accidents occur.

They add that in 2015, Kenya adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework required the government to ensure the substantial reduction of disaster risk and loss of life, livelihood, and health and in economic, physical, social, cultural, and environmental assets, persons, businesses, communities and countries.

The Sendai Framework, they say, specifically mandates government action at national and local levels to allocate necessary resources, including finances and logistics at all levels of administration for the development and implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies.

The petitioners accuse Nema of violating the rights of the residents of Il’ngarua by failing to issue regulations to guide reporting and verification of climate change and failing to issue guidelines and prescribing measures on climate change.

They add that Nema also failed to facilitate capacity development for public participation in climate change responses through awareness creation.

The county government, they say, has failed to formulate programmes and plans to enhance the resilience and adaptive capacity of the locals and their ecological systems to impacts of climate change.

They claim the government has discriminated against them by failing, refusing and neglecting to rehabilitate infrastructure damaged by floods. “The respondents being entities responsible for the establishment of settlement programmes to provide for shelter and livelihood to petitioners who are displaced by natural causes neglected to do so,” reads the petition in part.

Climate change

The complainants want the court to issue a declaration that the respondents through their acts of omission refused to take precautionary measures to anticipate and prevent or minimise the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects.

They also want the court to order that the affected residents are entitled to full compensation for losses suffered.

The court, they say, should also order the government to establish programmes to provide for shelter, livelihood and access to land to those displaced by the rising lake.

The CS Ministry of Transport Infrastructure, they say, should be compelled to relocate infrastructure damaged by floods, including roads, schools and health centers.

The CS Ministry of Environment and Nema, they say, should be ordered to undertake a thorough nationwide assessment of how climate change affects human health and habitat loss.

The Ministry of Environment and Nema, they say, should be compelled to conduct climate change scenarios and develop corresponding policy responses.

The residents want their case to be referred to the Chief Justice to empanel a bench comprising of an uneven number of judges not less than three to hear and determine the suit. The suit, they say, raises substantial issues of law touching on the Constitution and the relevant statutes.

“The issues raised in the petition go beyond the petitioners as individuals and an organisation for the reasons that there is greater public interest consideration affecting the entire republic,” they state.

The case will be mentioned on October 4, for directions.