By Ogova Ondego
Published August 20, 2016
That the effects of Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) to and from Base Transceiver Station (BTS) on human health generates concern and divided opinions is not in doubt. That the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the United Nations admits there being “gaps in knowledge about biological effects” is not debatable. That WHO’s International EMF Project calls for “further research” on biological effects as artificial (read, man-made) EMF gets more intense in the 21st century should be an area of interest to every human being.
Thus few observers were surprised when a public meeting organised by the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) to sensitise Kenyans on EMF and BTS easily filled up a cavernous conference room at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel. KARA had said that it “has received numerous enquiries from members on the health and safety impact of placing a BTS within an estate and the EMF safety guidelines for putting up a BTS/transmission mast.”
KARA, in collaboration with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), had invited Marnus van Wyk, whom it described as “a leading EMF expert from South Africa”, to address the meeting.Other speakers at the forum included Judi Wakhungu (Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities), David Ongare (Director of Compliance and Enforcement, NEMA) and Christopher Kemei, (Director of Licensing, Compliance and Standards, CA).
David Ongare said the “quality of environment in Kenya is not improving” and that “collective action is required”. He identified the challenges facing Kenya as
- Scientific uncertainty
- Citizen (Wanjiku or hoi polloi) Science (that borders on speculation?)
- Lack of Communication for action.
Saying public participation platforms are important in tackling any misinformation related to EMF and BTS, Ongwae appealed to experts to steer clear of jargon and instead use the sort of language citizens understand.
Kemei, who represented Francis Wangusi (director-general of CA), said CA’s mandate is to protect the consumer; that CA tests all Information Communications Technology gadgets entering Kenya to ensure they comply with safety standards; that CA issues guidelines on where ICT infrastructure, such as mobile phone and television masts and transmission boosters, are to be located; that CA collaborates with NEMA, Radiation Protection Board,and Kenya Bureau f Standards; and that through Infrastructure Sharing Regulation, CA promoting a reduction in the proliferation of communications masts.
Richard Nyaga, who chairs KARA, had set the tone of discussion in his introductory remarks: “. . . there have been extensive debates regarding the health effect of electromagnetic frequency emanating from the Base Transceiver Stations and especially those mounted in residential areas by mobile phone operators. . . Resident Associations have locked horns with mobile phone operators regarding the mounting of BTS within their estates. . . In order to separate facts from myths, it is important that a concerted education and awareness creation initiatives are undertaken and where necessary mitigation measures out in place. . . it is important for mobile phone operators and the Government to support such awareness creation initiatives.”
So did the conference remain on course, guided by Nyaga’s road map?
But cracks started to emerge when participants queried why key players–Ministry of Health, Kenya Medical Association, Radiation Protection Board, consumer rights protection groups such as Federation of Kenya Consumers, COFEK–were not represented in the meeting.
There was no response from the organisers of the event.
But what complicated matters further was van Wyk’s Advanced-Level Physics teaching-like approach that skirted fundamental issues–EMF health effects–that raised even more questions from the people gathered to listen to him when it became clear that he was about to conclude his presentation without having tackled #EMFHealthEffects, the subject of that conference organisers wanted participants to use in their social media posts to generate public debate.
“What did Kenya’s Court of Appeal judges who were in 2013 reported to have refused to move into new premises in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area contending that telecommunication masts situated near the building posed a radiation danger know that we don’t?” a participant posed.
“Please address practical issues on EMF,” another requested.
“Please provide us with an EMF status report on Kenya, Nigeria or South Africa to debunk myths and half truths about the subject,” yet another said.
Running out of time as the meeting was just about to be concluded, questions came. Fast. Furious.
But Van Wyk failed to adequately address the biological effects of EMF. He said there was no comprehensive report on EMF in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa or even Africa. He said regulations were adequate in addressing issues related to EMF. He reiterated that had the Kenyan judges who had declined to move into the new premises been South African, radiation tests would have been conducted on the premises.
That van Wyk spoke in abstract rather than practical terms, calling for that called for unfettered, absolute and almost blind faith in ‘regulations’ over the EMF debate left many bewildered, wondering why the EMF expert didn’t realise that regulations can only work in an ideal world in which there are no vested commercial or political interests.
In his introduction, van Wyk had said he consults for the Government of Kenya and Safaricom mobile service provider. Safaricom, on its part, consults for the Kenya government on the creation of the Integrated Communication, Command and Control Centre (IC3) within the National Police Service, and on the installation of CCTV cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa towns that rely on BTS and EMF. As such, how far would such an expert have been expected to go in delivering an independent, or non-biased, public awareness address on BTS and EMF in Nairobi on August 19, 2016?
The debate continues. From the look of things.