The Star (Nairobi)

11 July 2014

Kenya: Taskforce Outlines Roadmap to Rescue Dying Hell's Gate Park

Hell's Gate is Kenya's second smallest park and the only one where tourists can walk, cycle or drive through. It is therefore a prime asset in Kenya as a national park with unique landscapes.

However, earlier this year, growth-hungry KenGen confirmed that they would create five new industrial parks inside the park and were expected to complete a 280 megawatts geothermal power plant by September with hopes to boost that to 1070 megawatts 2025.

This would involve drilling a hundred more geothermal wells in a park where half of the area has already been paralysed by the existing drilling sites.

The cliffs in Hells Gate are an important area as they provide nesting sites for three endangered birds of prey. But two of these, the Lammergeyer and Egyptian vulture, are now extinct from the park due largely to disturbance while population of the third species, the Ruppells Vulture, has declined significantly because of Kengen activities.

In addition to this, the vulture's site is one of two known nesting sites in Kenya and the only one that is in a protected area.

The Kenyan Wildlife Society (KWS) and other shareholders are understandably concerned by Kengen's ambitious expansion plans particularly as consultants have even suggested that Hell's Gate be de-gazetted as a national park due to the onslaught.

The task-force on wildlife security, which presented its report to Environment Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu last week, has now made a raft of suggestions to save the dying park.

Members of the taskforce, led by Ambassador Nehemiah Rotich, met with KWS staff, Kengen staff and environmental experts during the preparation of the report.

A memorandum of understanding between the KWS and KenGen in relation to the geothermal drilling plans, was found to have been constantly flouted by both parties. The task-force says the zones that were supposed to be protected from geothermal drilling have now been encroached by Kengen. During their field visit, the team saw first hand that drilling had taken place in one of the protected zones and that despite the KWS pointing out the violations, no response had been given.

There had also been an agreement that Well 40 should be shut down due to the risk it poses to the vulture colony because of water overspill in the nesting area. However, this had been ignored and the well continues to remain open.

The equipment used in the wells was also found to be substandard and resulted in atmospheric pollution and noise. It was found not to follow the standard provided by the example of Omart 4.

During their visit, the task-force identified several challenges that KenGen and the KWS were faced with. While Kenya should develop its geothermal potential, this should not undermine the other vision 2030 strategy of keeping wildlife resources as the bedrock of tourism sector, the Amb Rotich-led team said.

Other parks bring considered for geothermal drilling include Longonot National park, Eburru, Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria.

The taskforce now wants several measures undertaken immediately to save Hells Gate and forestall destruction of other parks.

It recommends that the KWS-Kengen MoU be revised and converted into a contract which could be properly enforced and monitored.

In addition to closing Well 40, the tea, also suggested that a compliance committee should be set up to provide the oversight and monitoring that is urgently needed.

They committee should be chaired by an official from the Ministry of Environment because this is the docket where national parks fall.

Other members of the committee should include the Ministry of Energy, KWS, KenGen, NEMA and one or two committed knowledgeable stakeholders such as Nature Kenya, which recognises Hells gate as an important bird area.

The task-force says that if geothermal drilling is to continue in the park, it is important to set limits that allow KenGen to continue harvesting energy but that also maintain the integrity of the national park.

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