Alarm over declining water level in rivers as forest shrinks

A section of the Kaptagat forest in Elgeiyo Marakwet County that has been destroyed by illegal loggers. Many rivers emanating from the forest have dried up.
North Rift has more than 291,000 hectares of gazzeted forests and serves as a major water source for Western, Nyanza and Turkana.

But the forest cover has drastically been depleted following years of wanton destruction.

Those who had the privilege of overflying the forests have seen scattered patches of trees with a huge chunk left bare due to illegal human activities, a stark reality corroborated by satellite images.

The forest cover is insufficient to sustain rising water needs in the region and requires massive rehabilitation.

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The illegal human activities in the forest have undermined conservation efforts and are now discouraging tourists, athletes and other visitors who flock the region to enjoy the environment.

Embobut forest in Elgeyo Marakwet for instance, which is part of Cherangany water tower with a total cover of 21,000 hectares, has been reduced to a mere 5,000 hectares after illegal squatters turned it into farmlands and settlement.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) admits that they are grappling with illegal logging, charcoal burning, encroachment and overgrazing which have depleted the forest cover.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos has in the past accused KFS and saw millers of harvesting trees right into water catchment areas thus interfering with the riparian areas and jeopardising the existence of rivers.

“Rivers that originate from these forests are on the verge of drying up due to massive logging, which has destroyed the riparian areas,” said Mr Tolgos who has led protests to flush out saw millers in the forests. The governor petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare Kaptagat forest a water tower warning that the region would be water deficit if the wanton destruction is not stopped.

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An environmentalist Cornelius Chepsoi said the deforestation not only affects the indigenous trees but also interferes with the rain patterns.

“The water levels are currently dropping rapidly, surprisingly Eldoret is experiencing water shortfall of 60,000 cubic metres each day and the deficit is rising due to population pressure and industrial revolution in the region,” warned Mr Chepsoi.

He said despite plans to construct of dams to supplement the water sources, continued logging is still a threat to the environment. Kaptagat Forest Users Conservation Group, an environmental lobby, has drafted a raft of recommendations to check the deforestation and called for an indefinate logging ban.

The group said declaring the forest a watershed zone and gazetting it will save it.  

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