Your environment is your surroundings, the sum total of external influences affecting you. It provides food, air, and water for survival; a clean space for relaxation; and offers a sense of quietness for peace of mind and security to be able to think, reflect, plan and implement your plans for your survival and the benefit of others and the community at large.
All this is only possible if the environment remains clean, productive, stable, peaceful, and free of all the modern pollutants such as noise, chemicals, smoke and dust.
The responsibility for the maintenance and care of the environment rests with human beings as the main beneficiaries. There can be no doubt that worldwide, these custodians of the environment have completely failed to protect it, so much so that currently the environment is on its knees.
Ecological issues are a matter of life and death for individuals, communities and countries. In Kenya, the environment leads in topical issues of concern, rivaled only by insecurity, politics, bad governance and corruption. The destruction of the Mau Forest and other water towers with their resultant effect on water sources responsible for millions of livelihoods is a matter of national concern.
There isn’t a day that passes without some reference to the Mau Forest either in relation to power rationing, desertification, dying livestock and wildlife and threats to human survival. We are experiencing some of the worst drought conditions in years. The droughts in turn have affected the water level in our hydro-electric plants leading to power rationing, which in turn affects our manufacturing industries and the economy adversely. The net effect is the standard of living that very few Kenyans can afford.
Where it rains it ends in floods that destroy our crops, homes and human lives because the water protection measures have been destroyed or ignored. In addition we have some of the worst pollution records in the world, caused by engine fumes, smoke from burning chemical waste, mountains of rotting rubbish, dirty urban areas, stinking clogged sewage systems, a depressing sight of polythene bags scattered everywhere and a myriad of types of noise pollution.
Our rivers which should have clean, clear water have not only become brown from soil erosion but are also polluted with industrial waste and human faecal matter. As if that is not enough we now have climate change. We may not be completely responsible for the carbon emissions that cause climate change, but we cannot claim to be completely innocent. The list of indicators of decay in our environment is inexhaustible. In short, our environment is dirty, polluted, desolate, unproductive and too unhealthy to sustain us. It is a miracle that we continue to survive. This must force us to stop and reflect on what has gone wrong and our contribution to the mess.
We accept that the current droughts can be blamed mainly on the grabbers not only of the Mau Forest but also on all our main water towers. It is also fairly obvious that our government lacks strong policies to guide Kenyans on environmental issues. Even where there are policies, they are often manipulated for individual and special interests’ benefit. There is lack of commitment on the part of the leaders both in Government and Parliament as was recently demonstrated in the debate in Parliament on the Mau Forest where a report that would ensured the rehabilitation of the Mau and other water towers was amended so drastically as to render it almost useless.
There are many other reasons why we should hold our leaders responsible for our bleeding environment. But this does not completely explain why our urban areas are filthy, our rivers and lakes are polluted; there is so much pollution from smoke, human defecation, deafening noise, music and drumming, surprisingly some by religious organizations, and why our homes and villages are dirty, our farms are unproductive partly from soil erosion, and why we let all our rain water feed and enrich the Egyptians while we starve!
While our government and leaders are guilty of many sins of commission and omission, it would be irresponsible not to admit that we, the ordinary Kenyans are culprits alongside government and Parliament for our destroyed environment. This leads us to only one conclusion – that the ordinary people of this country must begin to think of other strategies of protecting and rehabilitating the environment for their own sake because we are the greatest sufferers of the effects of environmental degradation.
While we must continue to demand clear policies and directions from our government to save our environment, we must acknowledge that we are collectively responsible for the mess and we must contribute to solutions. There are many things that you as an individual can do to protect and rehabilitate the environment around you including the following:
• Keep your own home and place of work clean and free of litter.
• Never litter, defecate and spit in public places no matter how pressed.
• Direct all rain run-off water on your land into the ground either for use or to contribute to underground water resources.
• Divert water along your access road to your farm, homestead, office or factory respectively, to save destruction of the road and save the water for future use.
• Protect the soil on your land by not cultivating steep slopes, planting the right kind of trees and grasses to protect steep slopes, and by constructing terraces, cultivating across and not down steep slopes.
• Ensure that the water sources are protected by never planting gum trees along the river valleys, cultivating too close to the river, and ensuring that water is not allowed to flow into the river from your land.
• Guard against the temptation to acquire land by whatever means in an area considered a water source.
• Emulate Professor Wangari Maathai! In constantly advocating for the environment. Imagine what we could achieve!
• Demand that the government supports your efforts by providing facilities for waste water and rubbish disposal. It is your right!
(The author is an education and development specialist with a keen interest in the environment)