THE socio-environmental activities of refugees residing in camps in Garissa county have contributed to massive environmental degradation, an official has said.
Speaking during celebrations to mark the World Environment Day at Garissa Primary School on Thursday, Environment executive Salah Yakub said the impact makes some 650,000 people in the host community vulnerable.
He said the refugees have put the Garissa's ecosystem in danger of collapse due to their "continued dependence on the fragile environment for food and fuel".
Yakub said the refugees have cut down trees in and around their camps for fuel leading to substantial soil erosion problems. He said they have begun encroaching on the protected Boni Forest putting the livelihoods of residents, who are mostly pastoralists, at risk.
"Currently there is enormous illegal logging in Boni Forest. Two metres of timber from the unique tree species found there fetches up to Sh2,800 in the refugee camps," Yakub said.
He said the refugees are poaching giraffes and gazelles in the area around their camps, which is reducing the number of the two animals. "The butcheries in the camps offer their customers a choice between meats from a domestic or game animal. The demand for game meat is high as it is cheap and believed to be highly nutritious," Yakub said.
The executive called on the national government, through the Department of Refugee Affairs, to address the matter. Yakub asked the Kenya Wildlife Service to stop recruiting its rangers from the National Youth Service and instead recruit residents.
He said those from NYS do not understand the situation on the ground. "Youth in our subcounties understand the situation on the ground better than those hailing from outside the region," Yakub said.
He said there are only 12 Kenya Forest Service personnel in the county making it difficult for them to efficiently patrol the county. Yakub asked the national government to devolve the function to allow counties chip in and manage forest affairs. He said Garissa has set aside Sh250 million for various conservation, preservation and restoration programmes.