From email@example.com Wed Mar 28 14:29:42 2001
Kenya's Forest Plan Rouses More Opposition
Environment News Service (ENS), 19 March 2001
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 19, 2001 (ENS) - Opposition is growing to the Kenyan government's plan to clear more than 67,000 hectares (165,560 acres) of forest.
The plan is to resettle landless people, including at the foot of Mount Kenya. The Kenyan government says most of the land is already settled and now needs to be formally managed.
Wangari Maathai's Green Belt movement has collected more than 20,000 signatures on a petition opposing the deforestation plan.
But last Thursday, a Kenyan High Court granted an injunction to prevent authorities from clearing forests until a case filed by an environmental lawyer against Environment Minister Francis Nyenze, is heard.
Last month, Nyenze announced the government's plans to allocate forest land for settlement in locations around Mount Kenya, in the Rift Valley and in Western Kenya.
According to government legal notices in the Kenya Gazette, these are the areas affected with the number of hectares to be excised. A hectare equals 2.47 acres.
Kenyan media outlets reported today that despite the High Court ruling, surveyors continued to survey the foot of Mount Kenya over the weekend, with armed police keeping guard.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) director general Dr. Claude Martin has written to the government, protesting its plans, which affect more than 10 percent of Kenya's forests.
"We would encourage you to undertake an environment impact assessment in order to get a clearer picture of the costs and benefits of such a decision on the immediate stakeholder communities and the nation of Kenya," Martin wrote.
"We are already experiencing numerous problems as a result of deforestation. Indeed, your country Kenya is listed among those experiencing water stress," Martin pointed out.
He noted the case of Nakuru town, which has been without water for months. Nakuru is a major agricultural and minor industrial center about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Lake Naivasha.
The town epitomizes the pressures being placed on Kenya's natural resources by deforestation. Its nearest water source is the River Malewa, which is also Lake Naivasha's lifeline, supplying 90 percent of surface water intake.
Deforestation in the mountains is reducing river flows, and cultivation of steep slopes down to the river banks, overgrazing, and water extraction are lowering the Malewa's levels and increasing its silt and nutrient loads.
WWF has been working in Nakuru and Lake Naivasha for 12 years. The organization reports that a weir on one of the Malewa's tributaries has been built, and there are plans to dam the Malewa to supply Nakuru town.
This, according to the award winning Lake Naivasha Riparian Association (LNRA), will mean the end of Lake Naivasha. The LNRA won the 1999 Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for bringing international attention to one of the few freshwater lakes in eastern Africa.
Martin acknowledged the Kenyan government's dilemma in balancing conservation and the demands of a growing population and development. But he is not the only high profile figure asking the government to think again.
"The short term economic gains of clearing woodlands for timber or agriculture must be matched against the even bigger, long term, losses as a result of uncontrolled and unsustainable deforestation," Toepfer told reporters February 28.
"Forests are the earth's green lungs, helping to remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the atmosphere. They also stabilize soils, reducing the risks of erosion and run off into rivers, and are in many cases home to a rich variety of wildlife and indigenous, forests dwelling, peoples."
Last Tuesday, the Kenyan church handed over a petition containing more than 500 signatures of those opposed to the government's plans. This is in addition to the 20,000 signatures collected by Professor Wangari Maathai's tree planting Green Belt Movement.
"This is not the end, rather it is the beginning of things to come," said Maathai.
Two years ago, Maathai was seriously injured when security guards beat her and supporters as they tried to plant trees in Karura forest. The 1,000 hectare (2,470 acre) eucalyptus and cypress forest stands amid some of the Kenyan capital's most affluent suburbs, and just beside UNEP headquarters.
Karura and Mount Kenya forest have been the scenes of violent confrontation before. Both areas have been under pressure from llegal logging for years. As ENS reported in February 1999, large parts of Mt. Kenya's 200,000 hectares of forest have been cleared by selective logging and marijuana cultivation.
The Kenyan government has created an inter-ministerial committee to review petitions, but is not obliged to act on them. According to WWF, the government is resolute on the plan and may even clear more forests.
"I'm doing what should have been done about 10 years ago," Kenya's Environment Minister Francis Nyenze told the BBC last month. He said the government's plan would protect forests while settling landless people.