LANDGRABBERS THREATEN WETLANDS IN NORTH RIFT
Swamps that serve as a major source of water to residents are increasingly being grabbed and converted into plantations, causing massive water shortages to a growing population
As weather vagaries increase demand for water for irrigation and household uses, some farmers in Keiyo are converting a swamp supplying water to the outskirts of Eldoret into a bare farmland.
A 300-acre Kaplolo swamp at the border of Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet counties that serves as the major source of water for Kipkabus dam is now under maize, potato and vegetable crops. A few streams that are visibly running dry are still flowing to the dam.
This happens as President Uhuru Kenyatta explains measures the government is taking to mitigate climate change during this year’s UN climate change conference in Morocco.
Uhuru says the central areas of mitigation include restoration of forest and degraded lands.
Rapid population growth of Eldoret town and other areas of the North Rift are making water the scarcest resource.
Kipkabus, a 10,000-cubic-metre dam, supplies water to sections of Eldoret.
Uasin Gishu Water executive Mary Njogu says the dam supplies water to parts of Moi University and the entire Keses area in the outskirts of Eldoret town.
DAM REHABILITATION Njogu says the county spent Sh40 million in the 2014-15 financial year to rehabilitate the dam. This sought to increase its water-holding capacity as demand for water in Eldoret increases due to a population surge.
She says the rehabilitation will minimise a 9,000-cubic-metres daily shortage of water in the fast-growing town.
“Water supply to the dam has been on the decrease. We are taking destruction of water sources and degradation of wetlands seriously,” she said.
At the Kaplolo area, the source of water for Kipkabus dam, residents recount stories of a once steady supplier of water, pasture for animals during dry seasons, as well as herbal medicines for traditional herbalists.
Kapyemit resident John Kiplagat says the wetland is now a bare ground after destruction by suspected land grabbers, who residents say came from a faraway area and invaded the vital swamp, converting it into a maize plantation.
Kiplagat says, as is characteristic of many swamps, Kaplolo was full of reeds and was home to different species of wild animals.
“Fifteen years ago, Kaplolo was a thick swamp. It was muddy, full of water and impassable. Today, you can cross from one side to the other on foot. That used to be impossible,” Kiplagat says.
The farmer says herders relied on the swamp for pasture and water during droughts.
He recalls: “Farmers from places 20km away used to bring their livestock for natural salts and water.”
Kiplagat says several areas of Uasin Gishu will run out of water if the swamp is not restored.
Fellow resident Joseph Kolebech concurs. He describes the invaders as so brazen that they warn residents of dire consequences if they interfere with their activities.
Kolebech says the fearless land grabbers may have influenced the authorities, given their ruthlessness and a lack of legal action by statutory bodies charged with protecting the environment.
“The strangers have threatened to take an unspecified action against anyone interfering with their farming activities in the swamp. Most people around here have been silenced. They no longer talk about the degradation,” he says.
He says officials from the National Environment Management Authority visited the area once.
This was followed by a visit by the strangers, who told residents near the swamp that the authority will never take any action against them.
“Last year, they told us Nema was nothing to them. And for sure, Nema
‘THE INVADERS HAVE THREATENED ANYONE INTERFERING WITH THEIR FARMING IN THE SWAMP. MOST PEOPLE AROUND HERE HAVE BEEN SILENCED. THEY NO LONGER TALK ABOUT THE DEGRADATION.’
‘FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, KAPLOLO WAS A THICK SWAMP. IT WAS MUDDY, FULL OF WATER AND IMPASSABLE. TODAY, YOU CAN CROSS FROM ONE SIDE TO THE OTHER ON FOOT. THAT USED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.’
has never visited the swamp. Now, we don’t know where to run to,” he adds.
He notes that a tractor tilling land in preparation for planting is a common sight in a once muddy, vegetated swamp.
A massive destruction of the wetland is evidenced by small patches of reeds, with water that previously flew naturally being channelled to a stream that flows to Kipkabus dam.
Burning of vegetation is crystal clear, too, even as residents lack support in protecting the critical wetland.
A woman in her mid 40s who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal says the intruders cut reeds and trees in the swamp and burn them in broad daylight.
She says they have dug tunnels to lead water to Kipkabus dam, noting that channelling of the water exacerbated their troubles, since it caused drying up of boreholes in neighbouring villages.
“As soon as they dug the water tunnels, boreholes at our homes suddenly dried up. We currently walk long distances to fetch water,” she says.
INVADERS OR RESIDENTS? Area assistant chief Joseph Chekenu confirms that the invaders are not residents of the area.
Chekenu says the individuals have perfected the art of dodging government officials.
“It is true that Nema officers have visited the swamp only once in the past year, but it is the responsibility of all of us to conserve wetlands,” he says.
The administrator calls for joint action between national and county governments to restore the swamp to its former status.
“We have identified the ring leaders, the group trying to illegally hive off this important swamp for agri- cultural activities. They have been scaring locals by telling them they know powerful individuals in government. We will soon bring them to book,” Chekenu said.
“We are approaching several state agencies and the county government for collaboration to reclaim the swamp,” he said, adding that plans are underway to plant bamboo and indigenous trees.
Nema Elgeyo Marakwet boss Sally Kiboss says she is aware of the degradation.
Kiboss says the authority is working with other agencies to reclaim the wetland ecosystem.
“We are not disclosing much on this at the moment. We are still preparing a report to be released soon,” she says.
She could not confirm whether the authority has carried out frequent monitoring and public awareness in the area, even after farmers raised the red flag following the encroachment. One of the central roles of Nema is to take stock of natural resources and their utilisation and conservation.
Water executive Simon Kiplagat says the encroachers have been issued with warnings to vacate the swamp to pave way for restoration.
However, he says the encroachers are residents of the area, contrary to what residents at Kaplolo said.
“Kaplolo is a swamp gazetted as a wetland. It’s unfortunate that some people have encroached over time in spite of the environmental dangers,” Kiplagat.
He says the county government has began reclaiming the gazetted land. It is restoring the wetland ecosystem by beginning an indigenous tree planting in the degraded swamp. Other interventions, Kiplagat says, include demarcation of all gazetted wetlands and education of residents adjacent to wetlands.
“We have already surveyed and demarcated several wetlands with boundary beacons,” he says.
Kiplagat says a number of swamps have, however, not been gazetted as wetlands, encouraging encroachment by residents who hive them off for farming, as they consider such swamps as part of their community land. He says Kamwosor and Metkei swamps in Keiyo South were not gazetted as wetlands.
The executive says those gazetted are Iten swamp (Keiyo North) and Kaptalamwa swamp (Marakwet East).
He says bamboo has been planted in Iten and Metkei swamps as a pilot project to salvage the water sources.
MULTIPURPOSE DAMS The national government is set to construct three multipurpose dams in Elgeyo Marakwet owing to its constant water supply, whose sources are wetlands and well conserved forests, including Cherangany forest water tower and Kaptagat forest.
The dams to be constructed by Kerio Valley Development Authority at Sh70 billion include Arror (Marakwet West), Embobut (Marakwet East) and Kimwarer (Keiyo South). These will supply irrigation water to drier areas of Kerio Valley.
This will bring the number of dams in the county to five.
Chebara and Kipkabus dams supply water to the neighbouring Uasin Gishu county.
Residents walk through Kaplolo swamp in Keiyo South. Some farmers have converted the wetland into a farmland.
A section of Kaplolo swamp in Elgeyo Marakwet county. The 300acre wetland has been encroached and converted to farmland
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