The standoff over Tullow Oil Company operations in Lokichar basin in Turkana County is causing untold misery for residents.
Livestock are at risk of death after the company disconnected water pumps in Dapar village in Turkana East Sub County.
For Mzee Ng’inyang’an Ebenyo, 52, life has taken a drastic turn and he fears the cycle of drought may return to hurt him. Near Mzee Ebenyo’s homestead a plastic tank that was installed to supply water is empty.
“We are really being punished here. My animals have gone without water for several weeks after the firm pulled out from supplying water. The situation has forced us to trek for several kilometres in search of water for our animals,” he said.
The man has been herding goats and cattle around the oilfield since childhood before the discovery of oil in 2012. “I have been herding my animals around this site. We did not know that we were stepping on black gold. We were only protecting the land from invasion from our neighbours who always raid us. But now the land has turned to be neither a blessing nor a curse associated with the discovery of oil,” he said.
“Since Tullow oil set foot here we have been enjoying some hospitality from them but our hopes of benefiting from the oil seem slim,” he added.
For close to a month now Tullow Oil Company has cut off water supply for locals in revenge following an impasse. The community accused Tullow oil of blackmailing them by disconnecting the water supply.
Since June 27, locals have been staging protests along Lokicha –Kapenguria road demanding that the Government restore security and give them jobs and tenders, a situation that has led to blockade of transportation of crude oil to Mombasa.
On June 3, President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged of trucks which were ferrying crude oil from Ngamia 8. But three weeks later, residents staged protests and blocked five trucks transporting crude oil along Lokichar-Kitale road citing insecurity.
Locals complained that the Government was only interested in providing adequate security for transportation of crude oil yet the community had been left vulnerable to attacks from the neighbouring community.
The protests which was backed by area MPs James Lomenen (Turkana South) and Ali Lokiru (Turkana East) forced Tullow Oil to evacuate staff. The oil firm has disconnected pumps for water tanks installed along Ngamia1 to Ngamia 8 exposing the community to suffering. The firm had been providing water trucking for residents to reduce the burden of herders walking for several kilometres in search of the commodity.
Tullow Oil also fuels generators that ensure steady supply of water from the boreholes. “It’s unfortunate the taps are now running dry and the rains stopped long ago. We have been forced to go back to scooping wells in seasonal river which we dig deeper. These holes expose us to danger in case the walls cave in,” a herdsman Ekai Lokal said.
After Tullow Oil withdrew services, villages like Nayenae-ereng, Dapar, Lokitoliwo, Lotimaan, Lomokar, and Nakukulas which are located near oil fields are now facing acute water shortage.
Donkeys, goats, camels, and sheep were spotted around the dry water tanks. Lomenen said Tullow was punishing the community by withdrawing water supply after the oilstandoff.
“It’s unfortunate that the firm revenged against the community by disconnecting water. What the community was agitating for could be resolved without further pains. We are not against the transportation of oil but the community demands must be met first before the oiloperations resumes”, the MP said.
But Tullow Oil officials led by the Country Manager Martin Mbogo told the Energy committee that they disconnected only seven pumps out of the thirty operational pumps.
Mr Mbogo explained that the pumps were disconnected after they removed their employees from the oil sites.
Some schools in Turkana South and East Sub County were forced to close early due to water shortage.
Ngamia One and Namorutung’a Mixed Secondary School are the most affected schools with more than 290 students going without water.
Turkana East sub-county education director Wycliffe Kironget said they opted to close schools early due to water shortage.
Petroleum and Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes said they were working with local leaders to resolve the standoff in a bid to resume oil transportation.
“Our engagement with local leaders and oil firm are progressive. We hope to resume the oil transportation soon once we resolve the matters that had brought some impasse. I am very optimistic that all the issues raised by the community especially on local content will be addressed to allow the oil move,” Munyes said.
Former councilor James Ekakale said it will be difficult for Tullow oil to operate in the region if the locals grievances are not addressed.