NAIROBI, July 18 – President Mwai Kibaki assured on Friday that the 2000 families that are to be evicted from the Mau forest, will be relocated in a humane way.
The President announced that his government had already identified a new site to relocate the thousands of squatters, who have been staying at the forest for years.
“The 2,000 squatter families living in the forest will be humanely relocated to a new site,” he promised.
Kibaki insisted that the eviction would take place as scheduled to protect and restore the Mau forest, which is home to the catchments of over twenty rivers.
His comments come amid a red alert issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Friday warning that ‘Kenya stands to lose an economic asset worth over $300 million if the forest of the Mau Complex continues to be degraded and destroyed’.
The Complex is an asset that supports key economic sectors in Rift Valley and Western Kenya, including energy, tourism, agriculture and water supply, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.
“For the past few years UNEP has been documenting the continued destruction and erosion of this vital ecosystem. It has reached a point where if no measures are taken, Kenya will lose one of its fundamental assets,” Steiner cautioned.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the government was taking steps to combat the destruction of this forest.
After a day long high-level consultative meeting, Odinga came up with five resolutions that included an October deadline for the eviction of people living in Mau Forest without valid title deeds.
The planned evictions are however being opposed by a section of MPs from the Rift Valley.
Led by Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto and his Kipkelion counterpart Magarer Langat, the legislators are demanding that the state instead engages in dialogue with the local leadership before taking such action.
Langat claimed that their proposal for dialogue with the communities, that would include systematic compensation where necessary without a deadline, was not taken into consideration.
However, President Kibaki pledged that the government would do what was required to protect the forest.
He was speaking at his Harambee House Office during talks with a Japanese delegation, led by the vice Chairman of Japan-Africa Union Parliamentarians League Tetsuro Yano, who paid him a courtesy call.
The Head of State said the forest was an important catchment area for the Sondu Miriu River, whose waters levels had drastically reduced and would affect the hydro power station.
Japan is funding phase two of the Sondu Miriu hydro power station at a cost of Sh7.6 billion, a project that is complete and awaiting commissioning.
President Kibaki, while commending Japan for its continued development assistance, asked them to consider financing the Ol-Karia IV Geothermal project.
The President also said that the government had identified a site in Tokyo to construct the offices and residence of Kenya’s ambassador to Japan, to cut down on the monthly rent payment of $47,000.
Yano meanwhile said he had met the Minister for Environment John Michuki on cleaning up the Nairobi River, a proposal which he said would be taken up by the Government of Japan.