The hur­dles to sav­ing Mau For­est

Chang­ing rain­fall pat­terns and de­clin­ing tree cover call for ur­gent ac­tion to save Mau For­est, but that is prov­ing eas­ier said than done

The Star (Kenya) - - Front Page - BY KIPLANG’AT KIRUI @thes­tarkenya

Ef­forts to save the Mau For­est, a vi­tal water tower, are be­ing un­der­mined by en­croach­ment, soil ero­sion and pol­i­tics, even as stud­ies show an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter is un­fold­ing.

The liveli­hoods of mil­lions of Kenyans who de­pend on the for­est are threat­ened as rain­falls pat­terns be­gin to change in the sur­round­ing ar­eas. The rivers orig­i­nat­ing from this ex­pan­sive for­est are also re­ced­ing and are heav­ily pol­luted.

A sur­vey by the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity in 2009 showed that the lev­els of phos­phates and ni­trates have reached a dan­ger­ous pro­por­tion in the Mara River, which stretches to Tan­za­nia. The chem­i­cals are re­leased into the river when rain­wa­ter washes off the fer­tiliser used by farm­ers who have en­croached on the for­est.

Soil ero­sion has also in­creased as the farm­ers clear the for­est and leave large swathes of steep land bare. The most af­fected area is the Maa­sai Mau For­est, which strad­dles five dis­tricts in the South Rift re­gion, in Keri­cho, Nakuru and Narok coun­ties.

Rain­fall con­tin­ues to dwin­dle, dev­as­tat­ing agri­cul­ture, Kenya’s eco­nomic main­stay. Narok county, which has 64,000 hectares un­der wheat cul­ti­va­tion, is likely to be the most af­fected.

CLI­MATE CHANGE Mau For­est’s degra­da­tion is hap­pen­ing amid a rise in global warm­ing, which is most se­vere in the south­ern hemi­sphere. Oth­er­wise known as cli­mate change, it refers to the rise in global tem­per­a­ture caused by the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of car­bon diox­ide and other gases. Causes in­clude tree cut­ting. With­out trees, car­bon diox­ide ac­cu­mu­lates in the at­mos­phere and forms a gaseous blan­ket that holds heat around the earth.

The Maa­sai Mau For­est is part of the Mau For­est com­plex, which strad­dles sev­eral coun­ties and is Kenya’s big­gest for­est. The com­plex cov­ers 400,000 hectares and is the big­gest sin­gle block of for­est in East Africa.

The ef­fects of its degra­da­tion are be­ing felt across the bor­ders in Tan­za­nia, where au­thor­i­ties are said to be con­cerned over the de­struc­tion of the for­est. The Mara River, with its source in Mau For­est, stretches into Tan­za­nia and is a cru­cial source of water for the Serengeti Na­tional Park in Tan­za­nia.

There are grow­ing cam­paigns on the con­se­quences of cli­mate change in a bid to ini­ti­ate pre­ven­tive ac­tion on air pol­lu­tion, es­pe­cially car­bon-re­lated emis­sions. If the global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture were to rise by 20C pre-in­dus­trial lev­els, many ecosys­tems could be se­ri­ously dam­aged and might go ex­tinct.

East Africa is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the im­pact of cli­mate change. The glaciers of Mt Kil­i­man­jaro and Ruwen­zori Moun­tain are melt­ing, sec­tions of co­ral reefs off the coast of East Africa are bleach­ing, and some species are shift­ing or dis­ap­pear­ing.

THREAT TO TOURISM IN­DUS­TRY The Maa­sai Mara Game Re­serve in Kenya and Serengeti Na­tional Park in Tan­za­nia is syn­ony­mous with the fa­mous wilde­beest mi­gra­tion, the spec­tac­u­lar jour­ney of mil­lions of wilde­beest (Gnu) and other her­bi­vores in search of food and water. The life­line of the MaraSerengeti ecosys­tem is the Mara River, a trans­bound­ary river shared by Kenya and Tan­za­nia. The river is im­por­tant for na­ture and the liveli­hoods of the peo­ple in the basin. It drains into the Lake Vic­to­ria, which is part of the larger Nile Basin.

Re­ports in­di­cate that the water flow in the Mara River has re­duced con­sid­er­ably in 10 years. Ex­ten­sive de­for­esta­tion in its water shed, bur­geon­ing hu­man set­tle­ments, in­ap­pro­pri­ate land use prac­tices in the up­per and mid­dle catch­ment and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of tourist fa­cil­i­ties within its ri­par­ian zone have all con­trib­uted to this re­duced flow.

Ex­ces­sive run-off, caused by loss of ground cover in the drainage basin, has also re­sulted in flood­ing in down­stream sec­tions of the river. Silt, fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides find their way into the river, a con­se­quence of poor agri­cul­tural prac­tices by the farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the basin.

De­mand for san­i­ta­tion ser­vices has in­creased con­sid­er­ably with the rise in ur­ban pop­u­la­tion and ho­tels along the river. Flood flow regimes have been dis­rupted, af­fect­ing fish breed­ing in Mara wet­lands.

A bal­ance needs to be struck be­tween al­lo­cat­ing water for direct hu­man use (agri­cul­ture, do­mes­tic sup­ply, power gen­er­a­tion) and in­di­rect use (ben­e­fits pro­vided by the ecosys­tem). Plan­ning for en­vi­ron­men­tal flows is, there­fore, nec­es­sary for the Mara River basin.

An en­vi­ron­men­tal flow as­sess­ment of the Mara River will de­ter­mine the water needs of bio­di­ver­sity and the ri­par­ian com­mu­ni­ties along the river. It will also de­ter­mine the re­serve or base flow (the amount of water that should be left within an ecosys­tem) to main­tain the needs of the ru­ral do­mes­tic water users and eco­log­i­cal pro­cesses.

Water is fun­da­men­tal to the liveli­hoods of the peo­ple in the Mara basin, who de­pend on it for drink­ing and do­mes­tic use as well as wa­ter­ing live­stock. Fish­eries and agri­cul­ture are equally vi­tal for food se­cu­rity and in­come and rely strongly on con­tin­u­ous flows in this river.

CON­SER­VA­TION EF­FORTS The wilde­beest mi­gra­tion at­tracts mil­lion of tourists each year, gen­er­at­ing rev­enue for the Kenyan and Tan­za­nian gov­ern­ments and cre­at­ing jobs for res­i­dents.

Stud­ies have re­vealed that se­verely re­duced water flows at the Mara River could lead to a cat­a­strophic die-off of the wilde­beest, trans­lat­ing into huge bio­di­ver­sity and eco­nomic losses. Other losses are plants, wildlife, aquatic life and veg­e­ta­tion, which all have strong water needs and are in­ter­de­pen­dent. It could also lead to hu­man-wildlife con­flict due to com­pe­ti­tion for water and land.

Faced with this threat, res­i­dents came to­gether in 2003 and formed an or­gan­i­sa­tion called the Mara River Water Users As­so­ci­a­tion (MRWUA) in Narok county.

As­so­ci­a­tion man­ager Kennedy Onyango said con­ser­va­tion of the Mara River basin is ur­gent, as it is home to about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple. “We are cre­at­ing aware­ness on con­ser­va­tion, re­for­esta­tion, spring pro­tec­tion, water har­vest­ing tech­nolo­gies and en­ergy-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies,” he said.

He adds that their main goal is to en­sure good qual­ity and ad­e­quate water sup­ply from the Mara River for

SE­VERELY RE­DUCED WATER FLOWS AT THE MARA RIVER COULD LEAD TO A CAT­A­STROPHIC DIE-OFF OF THE WILDE­BEEST, TRANS­LAT­ING INTO HUGE BIO­DI­VER­SITY AND ECO­NOMIC LOSSES. IT COULD ALSO IN­CREASE HUMANWILDLIFE CON­FLICTS AS THEY COM­PETE FOR WATER AND LAND.

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