The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has stopped Taita-Taveta County government from constructing markets stalls over a public cemetery at Bura Ndogo area in Taveta sub-county, stating no Environmental Impact Assessment Study was done before the project started.
Taveta residents had earlier expressed outrage and horror after the county launched construction of market stalls on the cemetery where workers exhumed rotten coffins, skulls and bones. Most residents termed the act of digging-up graves as sacrilege that might invite disaster over the community in coming days.
Speaking to KNA on Thursday, NEMA County Director, Ms. Edith Kalo said the authority has served the department of trade with a directive to stop the project until Environmental Impact Assessment Study was done.
She noted that there was also a need for social-cultural impact report accompanied by a report showing decommissioning of the cemetery into alternative land use. “None of these reports have been prepared and they are needed before the project continues,” she said.
Ms. Kalo added that since the project would involve exhuming the dead, there was need for a report to show how the remains would be disposed including if they would be reburied, incinerated or cremated.
She added NEMA would seek means to enforce the directive should the county fail to stop the project.
Barnabas Maimbo, a resident, said the land earmarked for market stalls was originally used by the community as a public cemetery until it was filled up and another cemetery identified at Sondo area in Bahati within the sub-county.
“The residents were shocked when workers started digging up bones and skulls of the dead people buried in the cemetery,” said Maimbo.
He added that traders had expressed their discomfort with the new market site that would be built directly over a cemetery. However, the county government argued the project had been proposed by the public.
Speaking to KNA on Thursday, County Executive Member for Lands, Ms. Getrude Shuwe said the traders at Bura Ndogo area proposed the market stalls be built on the land, adding the traders had long suffered for using road reserves and pleaded for permanent stalls.
“The traders proposed the Bura Ndogo grounds for construction of the stalls during the public participation. We only implemented what was agreed on,” she said.
She said Bura Ndogo cemetery was used in the 80s and 90s by locals but since then it has not been used. There is a car-wash business and a playground over the cemetery. Local meetings are also held in what used to be Bura Ndogo cemetery.
The county executive further said her office was in consultation with NEMA on advisory opinion over the land issues.
She further disclosed that law on public land allowed change in land use after a public land has remained unused for several years.
Shuwe said the bones were not being destroyed and would be buried elsewhere. “The bones were carefully collected and would be buried elsewhere,” she said.
The elders are allegedly planning to perform traditional rites to honor the dead even as their bones were being transferred to a different place.
By Wagema Mwangi