The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Groups Lobby Against Mining in Game Parks

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have been petitioned to ensure the mining laws are streamlined in order to protect game parks and national reserves from prospecting and mining. Lobby groups have said there was a potential and serious threat to game parks from prospecting and mining as the current mining laws state that special prospecting licences can be issued for such activities to be conducted anywhere in Kenya, including gazetted areas such as forests, monuments or other such places.

Areas currently facing threats are sections of the world famous Masai Mara Game Park, the Tsavo National Park and the only indigenous forest in Kwale, Mrima forest where a Canadian firm has been prospecting to start mining niobium and other rare earths. Conservationists and locals have raised alarm that the firm, Cortec Mining Company was in the process of converting its special prospecting licence into a mining lease.

"Mrima Hill is a gazetted area and is a primordial forest that hosts endemic rare trees, birds and small wildlife. It is under threat from being open cast mined for rare earths. We urgently need to protect this forest and other conservations and gazetted areas," said the groups led by the South Coast residents association.

The groups in their petition have said pollution from the processing of rare earths will cause further damage to the environment forcing relocation of about 44,000 people living around the area. They have also said the increasing number of companies prospecting various minerals in the country including oil made it imperative that the existing weak laws were strengthened to ensure that the country will not suffer the consequences of such activities.

"If the game parks fall into the hands of mining companies, this will have a devastating effect on tourism which employs thousands of Kenyans - many more than the mining companies would," the residents said. The ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources has already published the Mining and Minerals Bill 2012 which will be debated in Parliament soon.

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