Hundreds of residents from Thange village in Kibwezi, Makueni County affected by a massive oil spillage from a pipeline belonging to the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) got a reprieve after the company promised to compensate them.
The spillage that happened in the month of May along river Thange which is the main source of water for both domestic and irrigation use has posed a serious health risk for the last six months with many residents consuming the water oblivious of the dangers.
Nearby water sources including wells and boreholes have also not been spared while crops and livestock pastures have dried up due to the spillage.
KPC Acting Managing Director (MD) Flora Okoth who attributed the spillage to either third party related activities or leakage due to pressure on the 40 -year- old pipeline said the company has already repaired the point at which the pipeline was leaking and promised that all residents affected by the spillage will be duly compensated.
Okoth said a team of experts including Public Health officials are already on the ground to assess the damage caused by the spillage and screen residents who may have developed health related complications after consuming the contaminated water and pave way for the compensation.
Speaking in Thange village during a tour of the affected region, the acting MD who was flanked by Governor Kivutha Kibwana, area Member of Parliament Jessica Mbalu among other senior officials from both the KPC and County Government appealed for calm and promised that the company will provide clean water for domestic use to the affected residents until normalcy returns.
“We are greatly concerned by the state of affairs and we shall continue to provide water as well as clean the water sources but if it will not be possible we shall establish a fresh borehole,” said Okoth.
She also added that KPC in conjunction with the County Government and other relevant stakeholders will form a task-force to put in place strategies to rectify the situation and avert similar incidents in the future.
On his part, Governor Kivutha called on KPC to provide water at different locations to ensure that the residents do not continue to suffer.
“Let KPC provide the water a strategic locations because the river is the lifeline of the residents who live along it and it stretches up to 40 km downstream,” said Kibwana.
The governor’s sentiments were also echoed by MP Mbalu who called for a speedy solution and compensation to the residents.
The move by KPC to provide water and compensation is definitely good news to the community whose consumption of the polluted water had already started taking toll on their health.
According to St. Peters Thange secondary school principal Stephen Anguzu more than 50 students and the Deputy Principal Simon Warui are suspected to have developed lead poisoning from consuming the water.
He said the affected students have been complaining of consistent chest and stomach pains accompanied by muscular and body weakness and underscored the need for urgent medical examination.
“Our deputy principal who exhibited the same symptoms has been diagnosed with high concentration of lead metal which may take long to treat,” said the principal.
A resident Mary Ndangwa whose plantation of kales have dried thanks to the spillage is now counting losses and wants KPC to fully compensate her for the damage caused.
“We already work hard in the harsh climatic conditions to plant and irrigate our crops but they have now withered and we have nowhere to turn to. We hope the company will compensate us fully,” said the distraught Mary.
The oil spillage incident is unfortunate but what is more disturbing is that fact that it took six months for the KPC to address the issue leaving helpless residents to consume polluted water hence posing serious health risks.
While the number of residents who might have developed possible lead poisoning has not yet been established, it is clear from the damage caused to the water sources and crops that the effects of the spillage are devastating.
Though the compensation by the KPC is welcome, the company should ensure that all residents affected by the spillage are medically examined and treated where necessary.
The company should also clean up the river and the other affected water sources and put in place proper measures to ensure that such incidents do not replicate either in Thange or other areas where the pipeline passes.