NEWS 2009

December 01, 2009

Action needed right now


THE COPENHAGEN SUMMIT on climate change this month presents another avenue for people and organisations to take collective action to save Mother Nature.

World leaders are expected to share country-specific action plans that will seek to further reduce carbon emissions.

Africa has been hardest hit by climate change. The irony is that the continent produces the least carbon emissions compared to Europe, Asia and the Americas. Many a rain-based agro-economy in Africa has been brought down to its knees by erratic weather patterns.

Climate change may not resonate largely with the average person to warrant an urgent call to action. But with Mt Kenya slowly losing its snow-capped peaks and diseases like malaria that were restricted to hot and humid climates now common in high-altitude areas such as Nairobi and Central Kenya, we are experiencing the effects of global warming.

As the world converges in Copenhagen, in Kenya, we are yet to appreciate that the first useful step to tackle global challenges like climate change is to act locally. We must conserve the environment, plant trees and protect the natural resources within our reach.

People residing and drawing livelihoods from our water towers must be taught to protect indigenous forests.

Meanwhile, legislation relating to forest management and conservation must be enforced to protect and conserve our water towers, namely, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, the Aberdares, the Mau and Cherangani Hills.

Belittling statements such as the one made by a Rift Valley politician that rain comes from ‘‘above’’ and not from a tree cements the view that knowledge on elementary science is key to the success of any campaign against climate change.

ACCORDING TO A NEWSLETTER published by the Ogiek People’s Development Programme, “logging, charcoal-burning and poor farming practices” have contributed to the destruction of the seven forest blocks of the Mau complex. These include South East Mau, South West Mau, East Mau, Mau Narok, Maasai Mau (un-gazetted), Western Mau and Southern Mau. 

Forest destruction has also depleted many catchment areas that serve large rivers and water masses. Napuiyapui water source in Kiptunga forest, deep in the Mau can no longer adequately feed the Mara River and Lake Nakuru.

The Mau is larger than both Mt Kenya and the Aberdares combined. With an altitude of 2,000m-2,600m and receiving 2,000mm in rainfall, it is not surprising that the mountainous 400,000 hectares of rainforest is rapidly disappearing to pave the way for cultivation. 

As corporates and civil society mobilise communities to take a proactive role in environmental conservation, we must also, individually, engage in similar advocacy and outreach initiatives. Climate change is real. However, it can be mitigated through concerted action.

With careful planning and implementation, the country’s forest cover can be gradually increased from the current single digit percentage through afforestation and re-afforestation. It starts with planting and nurturing a single seedling.

The government move to restore the Mau is proving unpopular with inhabitants, land-owners and some Rift Valley MPs. Mother Nature has no place for political expediency. Ultimately, the survival of future generations depends on the very existence of this water tower.

Ms Okulo is a social scientist. (