7 September 2006

Kenya: Keep Settlers Out of Forests


Nairobi — Concerns have been raised by environmentalists over the Government's plan to excise part of Ngong Hills Forest in Kajiado District to settle some landless families. Once again, this illustrates the administration's haphazard policies on human settlement.

As a report published elsewhere in this edition shows, the provincial administration in the Rift Valley is seeking to parcel out some 7,000-plus acres to settle some 400 families following a promise given to them last year by the political leadership.

The question of land remains one of the most emotive and controversial issues to date. For historical and economic reasons, so many people are landless, while a few own large tracts of land that is generally unused - a manifestation of the social unfairness of our system.

There is no disputing that the Government must provide land to the landless. But the question remains: How should that be done and at what cost? A tendency to target forest lands to settle the landless, as we have seen in the past, is putting the country on the brink of ecological disaster. Just a few weeks ago, the Kenya Wildlife Society warned that human settlement on the Mau forest, also in the Rift Valley, was posing a serious challenge to Lake Nakuru and several rivers that spring from it and run all the way to Lake Victoria.

Several other forests have been depleted and unless checked, the country will remain empty land without trees to attract rain and guarantee continued environmental conservation.

In fact, available statistics show that Kenya's forest land has diminished to less than two per cent, which is far below the recommended global figure of 10 per cent. This is why attempts to reduce the forest land further must be resisted.

Global warming, desertification and the attendant impacts like famine are a direct consequence of environmental degradation. Matters are worse when this come about because of political decisions which are populist and bereft of thought.

Whereas we acknowledge that the landless must be settled, this should not certainly be done in forests, whose cumulative advantage far supersedes the needs of a few groups of people.

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