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Kenya’s Asal areas buckling under pressure

Kenya,  a country touted as the richest in biodiversity in East Africa, is at risk of losing that honour, according to conservationists.

These experts cite the decreasing numbers of mammals in arid and semi-arid areas and the Mau Forest, where illegal settlers were forcibly evicted, a position shared by a United Nations report, The Global Biodiversity Outlook Report.

Conservationists and the report warn that the country is on the verge of losing even more diversity, unless radical measures are taken. Both blame induced human activities for the perceived gloom.

Bernard Opaa, natural resources management deputy director at the National Land Commission , says, “We have over- exploited them. This in turn has contributed change in weather pattern. This is a serious threat to food security. Large -scale droughts are common after forests were destroyed and emergence of diseases not previously known, besides flooding.”

He further says the devastation has also seen the disappearance of vital insects that promote cross-pollination critical for agriculture, fish, indigenous seeds, birds and mammals. “We are not able to feed a rising population. Lack of food has contributed to severe malnutrition in some communities and diseases such as malaria outbreak due to climate change are being witnessed,” he adds. 

The report had indicated that forest destruction, wetland destruction, changes in land use—pollution, poaching, overfishing and climate change pose serious threat. Further, the pressure on natural resources has now moved from high potential areas to arid and semi-arid lands (Asal).

Asal occupies over 80 per cent of Kenya’s landmass, according to the Ministry of Devolution and Asals. About 36 per cent of the population, 70 per cent of the national livestock and 90 per cent of wildlife call this region home. However, it has been faced by severe climatic conditions that have had devastating effects on the environment and livelihoods of the communities.

“More and more Asal areas are being opened up for agriculture despite being unsuitable for farming, resulting in the loss of biodiversity,” says Dr David Western, the chairman of the African Conservation Centre.

Studies conducted by the organisation in Amboseli National Park and Maasai Mara Game Reserve reveal that settlement patterns around the protected areas have changed from temporary to permanent, with most families opting to grow crops rather than practise pastoralism suitable for such environment.

As a result, in Amboseli National Park, temperatures have risen by three to four degrees in the last 30 to 40 years, a fact that conservationists blame on loss of vegetation cover. “We have to be careful when preparing for climate change by ensuring we are not degrading our habitat,” adds Dr Western.

The situation is bound to be dire, especially with the underperformance of rain in 2019, which has aggravated lack of water, access to food and pasture as well as farming activities in Asal regions.  A report by non-governmental organisation, ACTED, reveals that three counties- Mandera, Samburu and Baringo- are already marked to be in the alarm drought phase, with the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) stating that the latter two counties are expected to degrade further.

This does not come cheap. According to the NDMA’s report, Drought Response Interventions and Resource Requirements for period June to December, 2019, already Sh1.6 billion was released through the Hunger Safety Net Programme between January and June, 2019, with slightly over 97,000 households in Wajir, Turkana, Mandera and Marsabit benefitting. A further Sh240m was paid to 89,000 households under the drought shock responsive category in Wajir and Turkana counties, and an additional Sh200m was set aside for water.

For July to December, the drought response requirement is set at Sh14.7 billion, with food relief and cash transfer taking the lion’s share of Sh10 million.  The budget approved, however, falls short of this requirement by half. The total amount approved is Sh7.7billion, with food relief and cash transfer getting Sh6.3 billion.

Environmental consultant, Gladys Mwakeh says; “I think we are trying to conserve the limited resources. We there not yet there, but the impact is still obvious: climate change, drought experienced in some areas like Turkana and floods in others.”

Mwakeh adds these changes lead to food insecurity, health challenges and even erosions – land destruction and loss of fertility.

“I believe if we all get enlightened and truly understand the importance of environmental protection and resource conservation to our lives both present and the future we will deliver the best and engage ourselves in sustainable development projects that restore resources and not destroying them.

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