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

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Conservation - STEPHEN RUTTO @sk_rutto

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.

/ STEPHEN RUTTO

Res­i­dents walk through Kaplolo swamp in Keiyo South. Some farm­ers have con­verted the wet­land into a farm­land.

/ STEPHEN RUTTO

A sec­tion of Kaplolo swamp in El­geyo Marak­wet county. The 300acre wet­land has been en­croached and con­verted to farm­land

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