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Dying rivers, dry taps as shortage ravages country

Dan Kaburu @KaburuDan

A severe water shortage has gripped many parts of the country and indeed across Africa in recent weeks. The crisis in Kenya has been attributed to climate change, logging in water catchment areas and destruction of indigenous forests perpetuated by greedy timber merchants and rogue foresters.

And the consequences is dying rivers and dwindling water levels: A crisis that is escalating with the ongoing drought. Yet water is life. Following reports of massive logging in Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests, the People Daily toured the region to assess the situation on the ground. An aerial view of Mt Kenya forest may not clearly reveal the wanton destruction that lurks beneath the ecosystem.

But a keener look shows patches of land where trees once stood. On the ground, we drove to Kabaru Forest in Mt Kenya, and we were welcomed by the sound of a power saw, a clear indication another tree that is more than 50 years old was being brought down. But Kieni MP Kanini Kega says the loggers are not cutting down indigenous trees.

“They are cutting trees planted 24 to 30 years ago,” he says. Kenya Forest Service director Emilio Mugo agrees. “What is being harvested in Kabaru is the Pinus Radiata tree, which we stopped planting in 1972,” said Mugo.

Logging underway at a dry section of River Gura in Aberdare Forest. INSET: Another section of the river that is fast drying because of deforestation. Photo/DAN KABURU

After some trees are cut, locals are allowed to farm the land and plant trees, though conservationists argue that cutting trees that are more than 50-years old has negative impact on environment.

They say it takes more than 30 years before trees start having an impact on the environment after planting, hence logging is strongly discouraged.

River Likii Central, which is the major water source for Nanyuki town residents, is drying up at an alarming rate, reducing water levels at the Nanyuki Water Treatment Plant by 52 per cent. Consequently, the town is experiencing water rationing.

The situation in Aberdare Forest is even worse as logging of indigenous trees is a daily occurrence. Subsequently, River Gura, once Africa’s “fastest”, is on its deathbed.

“It used to rain heavily here even in January, but today, there is not even a drizzle,” says Antonio Ngotho, a resident of Othaya in Nyeri County. Nobel laureate the late Prof Wangari Maathai would be turning in her grave to learn of the wanton destruction. What is left now of River Gura is a stream full of stones, and it could get worse if logging is not stopped.

In a similar situation in Samburu county, more than three and half million people who depend on Ewaso Nyiro River are a worried lot. The river has dried up at Archers Post. This has been attributed to the destruction of trees in Aberdare Forest, which is one of the river’s water catchment.

Ewaso Nyiro river basin is critical to the survival of pastoral communities and wildlife sanctuaries in northern Kenya, thus its depletion sounds alarm bells. In Nakuru, residents are grappling with water shortage, with some having to trek long distances in such of the precious commodity.

This against the backdrop of destruction of water towers such as Mau and Dundori forest. Environmentalists say time has come to ban logging to protect water catchment areas. They warn that unless urgent measures are taken to improve management of water and natural resources, the situation will snowball into a crisis. Whether that will happen any time soon is a matter of conjecture.

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