The scenic Elgeyo escarpment is on the verge of losing its allure.
A traveler on the meandering Iten-Kabarnet road will be confronted by hundreds of charcoal sacks and piles of firewood by the roadsides.
The charcoal and firewood once formed part of the scenic Elgeyo escarpment, a haven of rolling hills with various species of trees. Unchecked illegal logging, fueled by the demand for charcoal and firewood, is fast reducing this haven into a bare jungle.
Environmentalists have raised the red flag, warning of massive soil erosion and deadly landslides should the illegal loggers continue unabated.
The Saturday Standard visited Rokocho village in Kerio Valley, an epicentre of the 2012 landslide that claimed 16 lives and displaced more than 1,500 locals. Memories of that dark night are still fresh here. Sadly, most residents seem not to have learnt a lesson.
Clement Lagat recalls the heavy rains that pounded the area two days before the landslide. He knows what caused the landslide.
“That fateful night, the earth shook and we thought it was an earthquake or torrential rain roaring down the escarpment,” recalls the elderly man.
What it was was a mass of earth rolling downhill. Mr Lagat blames unbridled human activities like charcoal burning and cultivation on the hilltops.
“There is widespread charcoal burning and little conservation efforts to mitigate the environmental destruction. The region is steadily turning into a desert,” he says.
From the floor of the valley, you can see smoke from numerous charcoal kilns across the landscape. Huge rocks have been dangerously exposed, they are now hanging precariously. Here, a disaster is waiting to happen.
Decades of the wanton destruction of the natural environment has led to the extinction of Lake Kamnarok on the border of Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo counties.
Kamnarok, an ox-bow lake that was home to a large population of white crocodiles, is slowly drying out, taking with it hundreds of these reptiles. The destruction of the sources of the many rivers that feed it upstream has denied this beautiful lake water. The area is also afflicted by perennial floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the Kerio Valley floor floods, displacing hundreds and destroying crops.
An Elgeyo Marakwet County commissioned disaster report warns of a looming catastrophe that will affect at least 10,000 households living on the escarpment. Out of these, more than 4,000 families live in high risk areas. “We want to build dams to enable residents of Kerio Valley start irrigation farming and abandon charcoal burning,” Governor Alex Tolgos told Saturday Standard.