The death penalty awaits all Kenyans who commit certain crimes like robbery with violence. But it is not always clear what awaits those who commit environmental crimes. UNEP defines environmental crime as ‘illegal activities harming the environment and aimed at benefiting individuals or groups or companies from the exploitation of, damage to, trade or theft of natural resources, including serious crimes and transnational organised crime.’
Nairobi River has been a major culprit of environmental crimes. Once fresh and free flowing, it is now a hapless cesspit of both industrial and domestic waste. Ngong River and Mathare River, the two other rivers that form the Nairobi River Basin are also chronically polluted. Those who discharge waste into these rivers commit environmental crimes that must be duly punished because they cause illness not just to the river but also to urban riverine communities.
About 56 per cent of Nairobi City residents live in highly congested 46 informal settlements that are mostly located along the Nairobi River banks. The river and the people can never flourish in such a delicate and precarious arrangement. Those who allowed the situation to balloon to these precarious levels committed environmental crimes and must be held to account.
Although there is now much more awareness about environmental crimes against our priceless wildlife, the big fish behind poaching must be called out and fished out of hiding. As long as those who bankroll poaching remain faceless and unpunished, wildlife conservation will take one step forward and two steps backward.
Environmental Crime, which includes illegal wildlife trade, is now estimated to be worth Sh 26.4 trillion annually. This money, which is more than ten times Kenya’s 2016 budget of Sh2.6 trillion, ends up in the pockets of powerful people.
For them to have their day in court, the three arms of Government together with the public must treat environmental crimes with the same seriousness and urgency accorded to other high profile crimes. Another environmental crime that often goes unnoticed if not unpunished is illegal logging. Our forests are untouchable and those who touch them should never be protected by politics or money.
Environmental crimes also extend to development projects that undermine the environment. The Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) 1999 is very clear about projects that require Environmental Impact Assessment.
These projects, which are listed in EMCA’s Second Schedule, include establishment of industrial estates, construction of roads and railways. EIAs of such projects should be deliberately shared with the public so that Kenyans at the grassroots get to understand the impact and therefore become environmental watchdogs. Think green, act green!