Explore link between Marsabit’s toxic waste and cancer cases

Kenyans in the remote Northern districts are dying from a purportedly mysterious cancer epidemic. The harsh nomadic lifestyles have not changed, nor has the persistent poverty that often symbolises the region. It is not the characteristic malnourished children or maternal deaths but the silent numerous deaths attributed to various forms of cancer and related complications.

Recent media reports revealed that over 500 persons have died as a result of a cancer epidemic in Marsabit County in recent years. The number could be in thousands if a wider, thorough investigation is done. In the past two decades, residents of North and Upper Eastern have experienced high numbers of mysterious deaths of people and larger numbers of livestock that they attribute to possible dumping of toxic waste in the area.

Recently, the country’s premier medical research institution, Kemri, made a fool of itself in an odious attempt to explain away the tragic epidemic in Marsabit. At first, it declined to publish results of a study it carried out in the area, claiming the report could only be released to its sponsor. Later, it spoke impudently that the deaths could not be attributed to radioactive materials possibly dumped by oil exploration companies. Instead, it blamed excessive impurities in water sources in the area.

What balderdash! These water sources have been used for centuries and did not cause mass deaths, if at all! It is appalling for Kemri to attempt to cover up what even the unschooled residents in the area know — hazardous radioactive waste was dumped in Marsabit and other parts of North Eastern in the 1980s. Folks in the villages will tell you how supposedly oil exploration companies would wheel in large trucks with containers at night under heavy guard and bury them in the ground.

In 2010, the environmental organisation, Greenpeace, revealed that nearly 10 million tonnes of radioactive toxic waste from Europe was shipped to Africa between 1988 and 1994, and identified the Somalia coast as one of the key destinations. In 2005, an Italian environmental group and a former member of a criminal organisation also revealed how dozens of ship laden with toxic waste were sunk off the Italian coast and in the Mediterranean. They also reportedly shipped this dangerous waste to Somalia, Kenya and DR Congo to be buried on land or dumped off their coast.

According to UNEP officials, large containers of hazardous waste, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury, washed ashore in parts of Puntland, Somalia during the Tsunami in 2004. In 2009, Al Jazeera TV aired a compelling documentary in which former officials of an Italian maritime company revealed how they bribed officials in Somalia in the 1990s to bury radioactive waste in heart of that country, amid heart-rending story of death and destruction in that area.

In 1992 the countries of the European Union and 168 other countries signed the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal. Despite that, international trafficking in toxic waste by businesses and criminal lobbies has soared.

According to Greenpeace, it is a lucrative enterprise of $124 billion annually. Europe alone produces over 40 million tonnes of toxic waste; 70 per cent of these is unaccounted for.

A complicity of government and international criminal firms continue to plant death and misery for our progeny. The President should appoint an independent team of experts to investigate these deaths. Kemri must not prevaricate and attempt to dupe Kenyans. It should live up to its reputation, if any.