German-based organization awards Kenyan whistle-blower on lead poisoning in Mombasa

Phyllis Omido
Phyllis Omido. [Photo: The Independent]

In 2014, Phyllis Omido grabbed the bull by its horns when she whistle-blew on a lead smelter, Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd, for pollution and lead poisoning among Owino Uhuru residents in Changamwe, Mombasa. 

Six years later, her bravery and subsequent pursuit for justice for the victims of lead poisoning paid off in double.

Omido, a 42-year-old mother of four was named the 2020 Ethecon Blue Planet Award winner due to her efforts in environmental conservation.

Ethecon Foundation Ethics and Economy is a German-based organization which focuses on environmental conservation.

In a statement, while awarding her, Ethecon noted that Omido “resolutely stands up not only for human and environmental rights, but also for expansion of the universal basic rights. She acts for the benefit of human community.”

Omido started working with the lead factory owned by ex-MP Hezron Awiti in 2009 but would not realize the damage it caused to Owino Uhuru residents until later when her son fell ill.

Medical tests confirmed the presence of lead in his body and from there, she blew the whistle leading to the closure of the Metal Refinery EPZ ltd in 2014.

The factory collected old batteries and recycle them by smelting and extracting lead in them which would be exported to other countries.

Two years after its closure, she moved to court and sued the government and the factory for pollution and lead poisoning.

A month ago, the court awarded the residents Ksh1.3 billion in compensation for their suffering for the period that the lead smelter was operational.

The government through the Attorney General Kihara Kariuki has since appealed the ruling.

In a statement following the award, Omido said that it is an indication of appreciation by the international community which is watching what goes on in the grassroot.

 “I am so honoured to receive this award. It is a great privilege. It shows that the international community appreciates the work we do for the people in the grassroots,” Omido who is the founder and executive director of Centre for Justice and Environmental Action said.

The Ethecon Blue Planet Award will be presented to her in Berlin on November 2.