Loggers invade water catchment area as settlers’ eviction looms

Environment minister, John Michuki

Hundreds of new settlers are trooping into the controversial Mau Forest every day in a last attempt to cut down trees for timber and firewood as Government evictions loom.

This is worrying the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the environmental watchdog which is being accused of being slow in dealing with the Mau issue.

Nema said last week that its district environmental committees in that area have reported mass incursions into the forest, ahead of the expected release of the report by the task force appointed last year to find ways of ending the forest’s destruction.

“The destruction in the last few months has reached monumental levels,” said Nema director general Muusya Mwinzi.

Nema has now directed the Kenya Forestry Service to secure the forest in the next two weeks to stop any further incursions by new settlers.

Mau Forest is at the centre of the storm because of the wanton destruction by small holder farmers resettled there during the Moi era, despite the forest being a major water catchment area.

Its destruction, environmentalists say, is being felt across Kenya as major rivers continue to dry up and rainfall patterns disrupted, threatening the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans who depend on rain-fed agriculture for their income and survival.

The cutting down of trees and vegetation has affected the ecological conditions in large sections of central Rift Valley.

The forest supports 40 per cent of the Kenyan population directly and indirectly, mainly through agriculture and tourism.

The government has already hinted at using laws to solve the Mau Forest issue, which effectively means eviction of farmers because the law does not allow any cultivation in forests.

“You know every country must conduct its own affairs according to the rule of law. There are laws to govern situations such as Mau and other forests that are being destroyed. Those laws should be applied and I will be one of those who support the Minister responsible if he applies them,” said Environment Minister John Michuki.

“The Mau forest must be saved, whether or not two or three individuals will lose their political strongholds.”

The destruction of the water catchment area is already affecting the water situation in a country where access to water per person is below the international recommended levels.

Ideally, a country is called water sufficient if on average, every citizen can access 1,000 cubic metres of water per year. In Kenya, the official average is 600 cubic metres but Nema said this figure could still be high.

The rehabilitation and fencing off of Mau Forest is being pushed by environmentalists and sections of the government following the success of a similar initiative in the Aberdares Forest, which has regained its water catchment capacity.

In areas around the forest, there is no water shortage unlike that being experienced in most parts of the country, media reports said.

Nema hopes that the Kenya Forest Service will mobilise its rangers to stop further destruction of the forest. The authority is empowered by law to order any government agency to carry out a mandate like protecting threatened environmental facilities, with its core role remaining that of advisory to the government.

But Nema has recommended that the government mobilise other agencies , including security forces to supplement the resources of the Kenya Forest Service in securing the forest.

“There is a lot of logging going on and securing the forest now will help protect the forest as the government sorts out resettlement issues,” said Nema in a statement.

The authority, however, said insufficient funding from the government was affecting its ability to monitor environmental destruction issues like the case of Mau Forest.

While the authority requires Sh1 billion, this year it has been allocated about Sh200 million, a reduction from the previous year’s budget by Sh130 million.

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