Thursday, February 26, 2009

Adios Pan Paper. Adios Pollution.

For those who have been following the story of Pan African Paper Mills, it’s closure comes as no surprise. For a long time it has been surviving on cash injections and other known and unknown favours from Treasury.

With a workforce of more than 2,000, Pan Paper is the economic engine of Webuye town. True there are other business ventures that the residents can engage in but many face imminent collapse with the fall of the giant paper manufacturer. We may very well be witnessing the death of the otherwise once vibrant town of Webuye.

Having said that, there is also the bright side to look at. Some residents feel that the closure is good riddance due to the high levels of pollution that the factory is known for. Webuye has the infamous distinction of being one of the most polluted places on the planet. For long term residents, chest and breathing problems are rife among children and adults alike. This is directly attributable to continual inhalation of highly corrosive hydrosulphuric acid and use of contaminated water from Nzoia River which the paper miller has equally polluted.

Pan paper is one company among many that should by now have been sued and made to pay millions in compensation for poor health among residents, poor crop output, sick livestock and the sheer stench that is the hallmark of the town and it’s environs. But then again this is Kenya and they could always talk to the mighty.

Take it from someone who has been there severally, even breathing is difficult in Webuye. The stench, akin to that of rotten eggs comes in sick wave after sick wave and you are constantly aware that every breath you take is laden with chemicals. The factory itself as far as I could see was always enveloped in a sinister plume of smoke. From my web travels for this article, I’ve learnt a few things I did not even know. For example, corrugated iron sheets on roofs are corroded within months. Snowstorms of foam droplets from Pan Paper’s waste ponds cloud the sky and burn the skin.

If ever the giant paper manufacturer re-opens, the first thing they should check is the high levels of pollution. Someone should reinforce the activists and advocates who have been trying to make a case for affected residents. Webuye needs Erin Brockovich.

And that is just one factory.


Lumi said...

I hated the smell whenever I approached Webuye, I often wondered how people who live there everyday survived!!

Mama said...

This pollution thing seems like it is replicated everywhere factories are around. I have never been to Webuye but the other day I saw NTV doing an expose on Kitengela. People are dying there without their knowledge coz of the immense presence of factories at the place.

It really is sad that we have to choose between industrialisation and people's lives.

Empower Kenya said...

This is a step in the right direction by the gov't. Its about time they start getting rid of these loss-making companies!
I know the government needs to create jobs etc, but they can create jobs that are productive in both employment and profit-making.
There is an argument by some economist that: a potential industry which, if once established and assisted during its growing pains, could compete on equal terms in the world market is good for the country...but that argument is wrong. Every startup experiences loss in the early years...
If organizations are heavily supported by the government "the baby never grows up!" and taxpayers continue to support a hopeless situation.
Has panpaper ever been profitable?
I think not...and even if it had no potential of competing with the world's larger paper processors.

Rafiki said...

Sorry to go off topic Shiko, but your blog is worth US$9,032.64.

Eunuch said...

PP has been a SERIAL KILLER albeit silently. All the health complication including INFERTILITY and skin cancer are all attributed to it. The Indians have been reaping over corpses and now they have been left to die painfully. But again poverty comes at the greatest price=DEATH. Ask me about PP I should know better as a EUNUCH and otherwise.

BP 1 said...

Though Pollution burdens and employment benefits of industrial activity is an old debate between the Industrialist and environmentalist, for Webuye residents it is really a tough choice.
Without the factory their town will automatically die economically and with the factory running they will die slowly (silently as Eunuch said) from the effect of pollution.

From an environmental point of view it's a very easy thing to say let the factory die ( close) , but without doubt it will create a lot of problems, economically and socially, that might be more dangerous than the pollution itself.

May be Webuye resident might borrow a leaf from Copsa Mica , a tiny town in central Romania ,the most polluted place in Europe, A town that prefers pollution to Unemployment…. see link

Shiko-Msa said...

Lumi karibu. Approaching Webuye from Eldoret is the worst. People who live there - their senses are numb to the smell. Even a visitor staying there long enough soon does not notice it after some time.

Mama I think I saw that feature on Kitengela too. They should industrialize but take care of their own waste esp dangerous chemical waste.

Empower Kenya I doubt Pan paper has ever been profitable. Like every other white elephant, it had its owners.

Rafiki say what? The E-noise at Wanjiku is worth Kshs.700,000+? Where are the buyers! Wait how do I make it worth more? Kuyu.

Eunuch then maybe it's karma for PP?

BP I feel for the people of Copsa Mica and those of Webuye and other such towns. It's a tough choice. These factories do not have to die. If they really really wanted to they can minimize emissions. It'll probably cost them some but that's a burden they should be willing to bear.

Screamer said...

Now what are your takes if I may ask? Yes the polution is bad, but then the closure of PP(as you refer to it) is a step back, a big one I think.

Bp and Shiko-Msa I feel you, and for the those who lost their jobs. I just still feel there can be a compromise somewhere.

And shiko, I see the Kuyu in you. Fuata nyuki ule asali, make sure you get there before I do. Rafiki, you heard!

Ingwe Fan said...

Webuye needs Dinah Watima. After all she is the Mayor.

joyunspeakable said...

this situation environmentally is captured in Henrik Ibsen's play, a enemy of the people...a must read on how economics play a higher role than healthy issues....

that besides, PP went under with debts worth 10b....i pity the suppliers, service providers, staff etc...

the common economic wisdom entails that we engage in production that is profitable....outsource those we cant...lets go back to barter trade cant produce everything and everyone.....


Shiko-Msa said...

Ingwe Dina who? Maybe she's also eating to shut up. I don't trust any of these people any more. Webuye needs several pro bono lawyers. Do they exist in Kenya?

Joy barter trade would reduce also corruption considering at one time one would have to be paid in live goats. Like a traffic policeman taking home how many goats for the day?

RIP indeed PP.

31337 said...

i have visited the town and the factory for several days in my studenthood and yes the pollution levels in the town and the factory itself are unacceptable. the smells too...out of this world, everything i own stank by the time i got back home.

kerich emmanuel said...

i truly feel for the residents of Webuye. cant the government do something about the issue? May God help our crying nation.