Nairobi — The destruction of the 400,000-hectare Mau complex - Kenya's largest forest - spells doom for millions of people.
As a mountain forest, it is one of the five main "water towers" - the others being Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon and Cherangany hills.
The Mau complex forms the upper catchment of all but one main rivers west of the Rift Valley. They include the Nzoia, Yala, Nyando, Sondu (key to a power-generation project), Kerio, Molo, Mara and Ewaso Nyiro.
According to a report by Unep, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forests Working Group, the complex feeds such major lakes as Victoria, Turkana, Baringo, Nakuru and Natron.
Victoria, Turkana and Natron are cross-boundary. Victoria, shared by the three East African countries, feeds the Nile which snakes its way through the Sudan into the Mediterranean Sea.
Lake Turkana is shared between Kenya and Ethiopia, while Natron stands on the Tanzanian border.
The report, a wake-up call to protect the Mau, shows the major conservation features made possible by the forest, including the South Turkana national reserve with a scenic landscape and wildlife.
There are then the Kerio Valley national reserve, Lake Baringo with an estimated 470 bird species, the Lake Nakuru national park, considered the second most visited protected area important for bird life; Lake Natron, the main flamingo breeding area in the Rift Valley; the Maasai Mara national reserve - world-famous for big game, great migrations and bird life; the Serengeti national park, a world heritage site and world-famous for big game and migrations; and the Kakamega forest national reserve - the only one remaining in Kenya of the Guinea-Congolese forest ecosystem.
The reserve also has a great diversity of birds, butterflies and plants.
A large number of Kenyans live in the Lake Victoria basin, crossed by major rivers flowing from the Mau complex.
The complex also provides environmental services essential to crop production, including a continuous water flow, favourable climate conditions and many products such as medicinal plants, firewood and grass.