Nine rivers whose catchment area is Mau Forest, the Kenya’s biggest water tower, are on the verge of drying up owing to prolonged drought and destruction of the forest.
And if it does not rain within a month, environmentalists say, six of the nine rivers could dry up, affecting about two million people and livestock that directly depend on them downstream.
Water levels at Mara, Ewaso Nyiro, Nyangores,Talek, Sikinder, Narok Enkare, Entoroboni, Enkare Ngo’sor and Amalo rivers have dropped drastically between last December and early this month. Ewaso Nyiro, which drains into Lake Natron in Tanzania, Sikinder, Narok Enkare which Narok town residents depend on for water supply, Enkare Ng’osor, Entoroboni and Talek have been reduced to muddy streams.
Jackson Kamoe, the chairman of Mau Forest Conservation Trust, said last week unchecked human activities over the last three decades in the 400,000-hectare Mau Complex was hugely responsible for the declining water levels. Livestock dependent on the rivers have started succumbing.
“Clearing of forest for settlements, charcoal production and agriculture are contributing to the drying of these rivers,” he said. What’s more, Kamoe says, low water levels in Mara and Talek rivers is affecting the ecosystem in Masai Mara National Reserve.
“Hippos and crocodiles whose habitats are these rivers and other wild animals have started feeling the heat. They will start dying if it doesn’t rain soon,” said Kamoe. Some hotels in the vast game reserve and the Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania also depend on water supply from the Mara River, which becomes a world spectacle every August as about two million wildebeests and zebras cross it in an annual migration.
Kamoe also blamed the fast-receding water level of the Mara River on uncontrolled irrigation by large-scale horticulture farmers and companies upstream. Early this month, hundreds of new squatters reportedly invaded the 46,000-hectare Maasai Mau forest, a section of the larger complex, to pressurise the government to settle them there.
Receding fast Local leaders have been piling pressure on the government to settle hundreds of squatters in the region which is under the Narok County government management. Narok Water and Sewerage Ltd managing director Wilson Pere lamented that Narok Enkare River was receding fast, adding that provision of water to households and other establishments in the county will be affected if the situation remains unabated.
About 750,000 residents depend on the river for fresh water supply. “The water level is dropping. If it doesn’t rain to boost supply, we will be forced to partially block the river to avoid disrupting lives and other economic activities,” says Pere.
Kenya Water Towers Agency chair Isaac Kalua confirmed that the seven rivers in Mau have been severely affected by the drought and human activities in the catchment zones. “The situation is not good.
If they completely dry up, lives, the economy and millions of livestock will be in serious jeopardy,” he said. Kalua said the agency was planning to raise funds to fence off sections of the controversial forest that are vulnerable to invasion to protect the vital water-catchment area.
Christian Lambrechts, formerly the head of Early Warning and Policy-Making Division at the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) says the ongoing destruction in Maasai Mau section is disastrous, noting that the unresolved settlement issue in the forest was standing in the way of its restoration.
“I flew over the forest last week and the destruction I saw was shocking. If it is not stopped, the consequences will be dire,” said Lambrechts. Ewaso Nyiro River, he said, would completely dry up soon if the destruction is not stopped.
Lambrechts, who is also the executive director of Rhino Ark, an organisation that is involved in fencing off Aberdare forest, added that it would take long for sections of the Mau complex to be reinstated to their original state.
Variations of the forest cover, he said, was affecting river flows and goodwill from all stakeholders including the government is required to fix the problem. The former Unep official said uncontrolled grazing in South West Mau, the biggest block in the complex and the source of Sondu Miriu River, was degrading it, with about 24,000 heads of cattle graze in the forest.
Rhino Ark is planning to fence off South-West Mau from where about 10,000 families were evicted in 2009 to deter fresh encroachment, Lambrechts said.