By Judi Wakhungu
Published September 14, 2016
The proliferation of mobile telephony has made communication possible at dizzying speeds, revolutionalised money transfer, helped accelerate economic and social development, brought people closer and confirmed that the world is now but a village.
But the rapid increase in the use of the mobile telephony – there are more than seven billion active mobile devices around the world and more than 32 million mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya alone – has necessitated the deployment of thousands of base transmitting station (BTS) sites countrywide.
To boost connectivity and communication, some BTS sites are located close to residential areas, making residents increasingly concerned about the potential harmful effects that Electro-Magnetic Frequency (EMF) might pose to their health. As a result, misunderstandings and misinformation about the issues of safety and EMF radiation in general, have been created.
Another challenge posed by the location of BTS is visual intrusion. Currently, there are several telecommunication companies, each of which may want to have its own BTS sites. From a policy perspective, it is prudent for such companies to explore the possibility of co-location to not only help in minimising visual intrusion but also in promoting the efficient use of the available space.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is enhancing its regulatory capacity in conjunction with relevant agencies, such as the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) to handle the cross cutting matters.
The ministry has also beefed up its partnership efforts with various stakeholders, as it seeks to raise awareness and debunk myths on issues surrounding EMF and its health effects.
It is important to unravel the myths around the health effects of the base stations and at the same time, promote a better understanding of what is known and what is not known about EMF.
So far, global independent research efforts by experts in this field have not found any health hazards arising from mobile devices and masts to warrant a health hazard. The World Health Organisation’s updated factsheet, “Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health”, published in October 2014, concludes that, “To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
As a precautionary move, we must continue to urge all players to apply and strictly uphold regulatory guidelines in their operations. The CA and NEMA have been collaborating to ensure that all BTS sites are subjected to strict Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). After a year of operation, mandatory Environmental Audits will also need to be periodically undertaken.
To foster industry partnerships, the Ministry of Environment recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with mobile network operator, Safaricom, that outlines key deliverables with regard to safety on EMF and public awareness.
Such initiatives will remain a priority as we seek to address contemporary environment issues on a stakeholder-participatory model. This will help promote compliance with the law and enhance harmony in the industry.
Partnerships with resident associations under the ambit of the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) will also come in handy to increase the understanding of EMF issues among our residents and other stakeholders. This will not only help our residents and other stakeholders not to live in fear and ignorance but to also make informed decisions on EMF.
Judi Wakhungu is Kenya’s Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities. This is an edited version of the speech Prof Wakhungu delivered at a Kenya Alliance of Residents Association (KARA)-organised forum on ‘Environmental Effects of EMF’ in Nairobi on August 19, 2016.