New phase in Kenya forest drive

March 9, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 9 – The government now says it will embark on phase three of the Mau rehabilitation programme in about a month’s time.

Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa said the third phase which targets those who legally own land in the water tower will kick off once the government sorts out the legalities surrounding the matter.

The Forestry Minister who spoke after flagging off 29 vehicles to be used in facilitating his ministry’s mandate on Tuesday, added that the government also needed to complete the demarcation of the forest’s boundaries before it started reclaiming land.

“We must identify the acreage of people within that area with land. We must also be able to look at their title deed to see whether they are genuine or not because as you know a few years ago you could get a title deed at River Road which looked just as good as the genuine one,” he said.

The minister also said that the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments jointly decided to construct a dam on River Omo to help reduce costs of electricity in the country despite concerns that its construction posed a significant threat to Lake Turkana whose main tributary was the River Omo.

“The issue of environment was addressed before this project commenced and consultations between ourselves and Ethiopia allowed it to continue. But we will have to deal with any negative consequences that come because the positive aspect is that Kenya is also going to benefit. It will get power at very low rates; you know that we buy our power at very high rates and that most of our factories like Pan Paper broke down because of lack of funds to pay for electricity. So if we can get electricity cheaply it should be good,” he said.

He instead said that L. Turkana faced more threat from climate change: “Many of us do not realise that the effects of climate change are very diverse. I was in Lake Victoria four days ago and what is happening there is the negative effect of destruction of our forests not the construction of the dam. I think if we start addressing the issue of planting trees even in the semi arid and arid areas and wetlands we will be able to mitigate against the effects of climate change.”

Dr Wekesa however maintained that the third phase of the rehabilitation was a sensitive issue which required caution and sound legal advice.

“It is a process that has to be approached properly because we expect and we suspect that some of the people will go to court. So are taking all the necessary precautions to make sure that once we start doing the exercise, then it is being done properly according to the law the way it is stated,” he said.  

Dr Wekesa who noted that his ministry managed to reclaim 19,000 hectares in the second phase of the rehabilitation programme and that it required Sh38 billion shillings to restore and replenish the water tower. He added that the first phase of the programme was not as tricky as the subsequent ones as it targeted an area which had no human settlement.

He further said that the ministry of lands would identify land with which to compensate those targeted in the third phase stating that those who were evicted through the second phase (which targeted those who had resettled in the water tower illegally) went back to their original homes.

He blamed political bickering and the politicization of the Mau restoration process for the challenges that faced the second phase.

“Most of them went home. You know the politics of Kenya is such that you make a lot of noise and then hype the people. It is only when the politicians came in that people started camping on the road,” he said.

The construction of the dam has elicited public outcry by members of the Turkana community whose source of livelihood – fish is threatened. The River Omo makes up more than 80 per cent of L. Turkana’s waters. The other rivers, Turkwel and Kerio, are seasonal and can barely sustain the lake.

A memorandum of understanding was signed this between Ethiopian Government and Chinese company Sino-Hydro Corporation Limited, to construct the dam within five years. The planned project is expected to cost 1.4 billion Euros and will generate 1,400 megawatt hydro electric power. Ethiopia hopes to get loans from China for the project. Ethiopia signed the agreement following a Kenyan delegation\’s five-day visit to the country last month, to probe the environmental impact of Ethiopian Gibe III dam on L. Turkana.

Kenya reportedly concluded that there was no immediate danger to the lake if Ethiopia abided by the environment impact assessment rules.


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