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Isiolo airport will be a game-changer; let's fast-track its completion

 Isiolo International Airport. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Isiolo International Airport was refurbished and commissioned in July 2017. However, since then, it has remained largely underutilised despite being a strategic piece of infrastructure in the upper Eastern and northern Kenya counties.

As envisaged in the Vision 2030 Economic Blueprint, Isiolo is one of the three resort cities in the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor development project, the other two being Lamu and Diani in Kwale County.

Incorporated in the project is the construction of the Lamu-Ijara-Garissa road which is ongoing despite constant delays occasioned by insecurity posed by the Al Shabab militia. The project has three phases – the 257km Lamu-Ijara-Garissa section, 113km Hindi-Bodhei-Basuba-Kiunga section and 83km Ijara-Hulugho Road – at a total cost of Sh17.9 billion.

The other one is the 740km Isiolo-Mandera road whose construction has also kicked off and will cost Sh86 billion. There are other related projects such as fibre optic cables, refineries and pipelines. The roads are expected to play a key role in improving security in the areas and open up the northern part of the country.

But it is the delayed completion of Isiolo airport that is of major concern. Situated on the Isiolo-Meru border, the project cost about Sh1.7 billion and began in 2011 with the runway opened in February 2013.

With a floor area of about 5,000 square metres, the airport’s passenger terminal building was designed to provide interconnectivity and efficient movement between parking areas and terminal facilities.

There are nine check-in counters for domestic and international flights with a control tower, VIP lounge, banking and ATM facilities, foreign exchange bureaus and airline front offices.  Additional parking facilities have a capacity to hold 200 vehicles.

It is sad that this investment is currently going to waste. For many years now, there have been plans to expand the 1.4km runway to 2.8km that can handle bigger aircraft with little success, yet the facility has several benefits.

Transport of miraa, a major cash crop in Meru County, has faced challenges. By shipping the highly perishable product to Somalia through the airport, we could eliminate the mad rush witnessed as khat is transported to Nairobi by vans, and the resultant effects of road accidents caused by speeding drivers.

Shipping the produce directly to Somalia will also reduce the cost of transportation, resulting to the competitiveness of our product.

Secondly, Isiolo airport is an important link between the counties of Meru, Isiolo, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu, providing a vital link to Nairobi and Mombasa. With the development of other LAPSSET projects in top gear, Isiolo, which is also a preferred location for an oil refinery, is a key logistical hub for the provision of auxiliary services.

Then there is tourism. With an annual passenger handling capacity of 125,000 passengers, the airport would also play a crucial role in opening up the tourism sector in the region.

The Shaba National Reserve is located in Isiolo while the potential of Meru National Park, home to famed conservationists George and Joy Adamson - where they walked with Elsa the lioness - remains untapped.

Isiolo Airport is a game changer in the utilisation of these resources and there is a need to fast-track completion of the remaining facilities.

-Mr M’eruaki is board chairman, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS)

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