The International Day of Forests is marked on March 21. It is a day to celebrate forests, shine the spotlight on forest management now and in the future and take stock of the challenges, threats and opportunities in the forest sector globally. This year’s commemoration was themed “Forests and Sustainable Cities.”
Forests in cities and surrounding urban areas help to filter and regulate water, protect watersheds, prevent flooding, provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals.
The importance of forests is apparent, but the current state of this resource is something that must be discussed, understood and acted upon to ensure sustainability. Proper care can ensure its sustainability, but continued mismanagement and depletion will lead to nothing short of a crisis for life on our planet.
Kenya is a low forest cover country. The 2010 Constitution stipulates that the tree cover must be increased and maintained to at least 10 per cent of the country’s land area. The country’s tree cover stands at 7.2 per cent, way below the 10 per cent prescribed by the United Nations.
Despite this status, wanton and ruthless extraction of forest resources for timber, charcoal and human settlement continue untamed.
Forests provide a wide range of livelihoods support systems through the provision of a wide variety of forest products and services.
They also provide habitat for diverse flora and fauna, offer cultural, spiritual and recreational opportunities, and provide a variety of food, medicines and wood.
Forests and forested landscapes play the critical role of protecting water catchments, habitats for wildlife, biological diversity, carbon sequestration and regional climatic amelioration.
They play a pivotal role in the preservation of our wetlands, lowering surface run-off, mitigation of floods, protection of soil and erosion rates and sediment delivery to rivers.
Major threats include competition for forest land use with agricultural expansion and settlements, shifting cultivation, unsustainable charcoal production, excessive extraction of forest products,overgrazing and forest fires. Unless checked, these could worsen the gap between the poor and the rich, setting the stage for social unrest.
A ten-member multi-sectoral forest taskforce was recently launched and its key mandate us to determine the scale of illegal logging, destruction, and encroachment of public and community forests, water towers and other catchment areas, as well as the associated impacts.
It is also expected to review the procedures, qualification and conditions for licensing of saw millers to determine their adequacy, fairness and appropriateness.
The government has also announced a 90-day ban on logging and charcoal trade. This is the right move as it falls fairly and squarely within the letter and the spirit of Article 69 of the Constitution on environment.
The decision to gazette 70 more water towers across the country could not have come at a better time. The 2015 Kenya Water Towers Status Report raised a red flag.
It reads in part: “Apart from the KES 6 billion that Kenya loses annually because of deforestation, and the risk to 70 per cent of the country’s water supply, between 2000 and 2010 Kenya suffered a water loss of close to 62 million cubic meters, and a commensurate loss in its aquatic biodiversity and resources, and a rise in respiratory diseases and malaria.’’
The document further warns: “The deforestation, exacerbated by global warming has also led to an increased incidence of drought and famine, especially in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-arid Lands (Asals), which constitute 80 per cent of the country’s land mass.”
The country is grappling with the grave consequences of massive environmental degradation, manifested in the drying up of streams and rivers, erratic rainfall and prolonged drought leading to chronic food insecurity, deaths and destruction of property caused by flash floods.
According to the Vision 2030 blueprint, Kenya aims to be a nation that has a clean, secure and sustainable environment through promotion of environmental conservation, building capacities for adaptation to global climatic changes as well as harmonisation of environment-related laws for better environmental planning and governance.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) No. 15 is environment related and states: “Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”
The Mau Forest, the country’ largest water tower, for instance, is now a pale shadow of its former self.
Tonui Kipkurui, communications expert