Phyllis Omido

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Phyllis Omido
Phyllis Omido, 2014 (cropped).JPG
Born
Phyllis Indiatsi Omido

c. 1978
Kidinye Village, Vihiga County
Western Province, Kenya
NationalityKenyan
EducationUniversity of Nairobi
OrganizationCentre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA)
Chief campaigner and founder
Known forOrganizing protests against a lead smelting plant
ChildrenKingdavid Jeremiah Indiatsi[1]
Awards2015 Goldman Environmental Prize

Phyllis Omido (born Phyllis Indiatsi Omido c. 1978),[2] dubbed the "East African Erin Brockovich", is a Kenyan environmental activist. She was one of 6 people to be awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.[3] She is known for organizing protests against a lead smelting plant located in the middle of Owino Uhuru, a slum near Mombasa. The plant was causing lead poisoning by raising the lead content in the environment, killing residents, in particular children, and harming others, including her own child. The plant was ultimately closed.[4]

She is the founder of the Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA).[2]

Personal life[edit]

Phyllis Omido was born in Kidinye Village, Vihiga County, to Margaret Omido and Alfred Omido. She has two brothers and a sister. Her eldest brother is George Mukutu. Omido's sister is named Susan Monyani Kasuki. Her youngest brother is Silas Enane.

Omido was never married and has one child named Kingdavid Jeremiah Indiatsi.[5] She studied Business Administration at the University of Nairobi and worked in industries in Kenya for more than 15 years.[6]

Activism[edit]

Organization against the smelting plant[edit]

The plant started operations in 2009 in Owino Uhuru. It salvaged the lead from old car batteries. The result of the process was lead fumes which were released into the environment. Also, acid wastewater was not treated and was released into streams used by residents to bathe.

While working there as a community liaison officer, Omido commissioned an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The findings showed that the plant was releasing lead into the environment. As community relations officer, she made a recommendation that the smelter close and reopen elsewhere. Her superiors disagreed and reassigned her, bringing in a different consultant to finish the EIA.

Shortly after she started working at the smelter, Omido's baby became ill. She rushed him to hospital. They initially thought it was typhoid or malaria, but it was determined to be lead poisoning. She concluded that it must have been from the smelter. She selected three, random children and gave them blood tests. Each had levels of lead that were above the safe level according to the standards set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She then quit her job and began her campaign to close the plant.

In 2012, Omido, along with her son, was accosted by armed men outside her home but managed to escape.

After getting no results from company leaders and government officials to close the plant, she organized a demonstration. She was arrested along with 16 other members of CJGEA while lobbying against toxic waste. The CJGEA offices were raided and police confiscated documents and computers. After spending a night in jail, she was charged with "inciting violence" and illegal gathering. After a lengthy court battle, a judge dismissed the case under section 210. The magistrate stated that she had acted within the law.

She then started to get help from Human Rights Watch and other groups. She met with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on toxic waste. This prompted the Kenyan Senate to come to the plant to assess the claims. The plant was finally closed in January 2014.[7]

Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action[edit]

In 2009, Omido founded The Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA). Registered in Kilifi County and based in Mombasa, the organization was established to address environmental issues faced by the settlements near Kenya's industrial areas. In doing so, CJGEA has also become involved in addressing other issues, such as governance, policy change, and human rights. Programmes that the organization provides are climate change and environmental governance, activism and human rights, legal aid, and education.

CJGEA partnered with Human Rights Watch in the creation of a film on the poisoning of communities with toxic materials. It will focus on the death and health issues, as well as impunity and disregard for the environment and rule of law committed by the offenders. The film was launched on June 24, 2014 to coincide with the first UN Assembly on environment held in Nairobi.[8]

Recent work[edit]

In February 2013, representing CJGEA, Omido attended a United Nations Environment Programme consultation forum on human rights and the environment, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program.

In 2013 Omido represented Kenya's HRDs at Risk in Dublin, Ireland.

In 2014 she went to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the Universal Rights Group Consultative Forum for Environmental Human Rights Defenders.

From September 5 to 7, 2014, she attended the 3rd United Nations Institute for Training and Research-Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

On September 23, 2014, she was present at KIOS, the Finnish international human rights seminar.

She continues lobbying government. In 2014, three toxic waste smelters in poor, urban settlements were relocated to other parts of Mombasa.

Goldman Environmental Prize[edit]

Omido was one of six recipients of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. The award is the largest in the world for grassroots activists whose cause is the environment. She received a trophy along with prize money of $175,000 USD or 5.7 million Kenya Shillings.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The mother who defied threats to take on the factory spewing out toxin". The Independent.
  2. ^ a b Philip. "Kenya's Phyllis Omido bags Goldman Environmental Prize". philsinfo.com.
  3. ^ Pearce, Fred. "'East African Erin Brockovich' wins prize for closing polluting lead smelter". the Guardian.
  4. ^ "Meet Phyllis Omido: Kenya's 'Erin Brokovich'". The Burton Wire.
  5. ^ "The Single Mom Who Shut Down a Toxic Plant Readies for Round Two: Making Them Pay". TakePart. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  6. ^ "Miss Phyllis Omido". centerforjgea.com.
  7. ^ "Sahara Tribune » Kenyan environmental activist Phyllis Omido wins the prestigious Goldman prize". Sahara Tribune.
  8. ^ HumanRightsWatch (2014-06-23), Kenya: Factory Poisons Community, retrieved 2017-11-23
  9. ^ "Activist to sue factory over Owino Uhuru lead poisoning". Daily Nation. Retrieved 2017-11-23.

External links[edit]