Lawyer sues state to protect drying rivers and vulnerable wetlands

Some of the eucalyptus trees planted along Esise River in Borabu Sub-county, Nyamira. [Eric Abuga, Standard]

A lawyer has moved to court to compel the government to map out and gazette swamps and marshlands to save them from further degradation.

Lawyer Wilfred Omariba Moseti wants the court to direct relevant ministries to develop frameworks for an amendment to the Forest and Chiefs Act so as to empower Kenya Forest Service rangers and chiefs to protect wetlands.

In his petition before the Environment and Land Court in Nyamira, Moseti painted a picture of drying rivers, swamps and springs in Nyamira and Kisii counties to support his case.

The petitioner, 62, said in the suit, he is able to tell the situation on matters of the environment in the sixties, seventies and early eighties.
"The water volume in the rivers and streams has greatly reduced, some springs have dried up while others have become seasonal. There is not a single swamp or marshland in the two counties," he said.
Moseti has sued the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the Director NEMA, the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation and the Attorney General.

He has accused them of failing to plan, control and regulate the cultivation of eucalyptus and reasons that the trees are a serious threat to the environment.
On Thursday, the Environment and Lands Court Judge Justice Mugo Kamau certified the petition as urgent and directed that it be heard on a priority basis.
He directed that a notice of the petition’s existence be placed in one of the dailies within the next 10 days.
“This should be done on weekdays on a three-quarter page. Any member of the public, organisation or institution interested to join the petition as a respondent or co-petitioner has 14 days to do so," the judge sitting in Nyamira ordered.

Environmentalist Samson Bokea shows the receding River Mogonga which is plagued by a high number of eucalyptus trees planted on its banks. [Edwin Nyarangi, Standard]

The matter will be mentioned on March 22, 2023, at the High Court in Nyamira.
In the petition, Moseti is hoping to demonstrate the adverse environmental effects the unplanned, uncontrolled and unsupervised cultivation of eucalyptus trees has brought about in the country.
"All food basket counties in Kenya are facing the same problem, and if nothing is done and done urgently, the affected counties are not likely to have water, surface or ground by the year 2082 or thereabout," he says.
Residents of Nyamira and Kisii counties, he says, are suffering silently due to the cultivation of eucalyptus trees.

The trees he avers have been planted on wetlands; marshlands, swamps, water catchment areas, along rivers and streams, around springs, and in all permanent or seasonal water points.

Cultivation of these ‘water thirsty’ trees, the petitioner claims, has been going on for the last 40 years or so under the watchful eyes and knowledge of the respondents.

"The end result of the unplanned cultivation of eucalyptus trees is reduced volume of waters in our rivers, streams and springs, the disappearance of swamps and marshlands and above all, communal disputes and conflicts," he claims.

Under the Constitution and municipal laws, it is the responsibility of respondents to protect the environment and ensure that wetlands, all water sources, soils and indigenous trees are preserved and protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

"Despite the huge constitutional and legal responsibilities bestowed upon the respondents, our rivers, springs, swamps, marshlands as well as seasonal water points have either dried up or their water volumes drastically reduced due to the unsupervised cultivation of eucalyptus trees, and the petitioner blames the respondents for the unfortunate happenings," Omariba states.

He says a person visiting Nyamira and Kisii counties for the first time, would be forgiven for thinking that residents of the two counties are environmentally conscious, the reason being that the counties are evergreen throughout the year.

"What makes the two counties look evergreen, are the millions of eucalyptus trees and nothing else. People in the two counties plant eucalyptus trees not because of the environment but for its money."

Residents cut down eucalptus trees planted along riparian land in Kisii's Gesusu Ward. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

He says the petition is about the protection of the environment and, in particular, springs, rivers, swamps, marshlands and other water sources.

He says the enemy is Eucalyptus because the tree thrives well in swamps, marshlands and near water sources because water is its mainstay.  

Omariba says he has drafted this petition from the point of knowledge, having been a eucalyptus farmer for the last 30 years.

The petition also seeks to protect vulnerable Kenyans from the adverse effects of unregulated and uncontrolled cultivation of eucalyptus trees along or close to shared boundaries.

Wetlands in densely populated counties of Nyamira, Kisii, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu, Siaya, Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma, Kericho, Bomet, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Kiambu, Nyeri, Embu, Kirinyaga and many threatened with extinction as a result of uncontrolled cultivation of eucalyptus trees.
The petitioner states that wetlands have become extinct, and if Kenyans in the above-named counties continue cultivating eucalyptus trees without control, 99.9 percent chances are that they will turn into deserts in 60 years.
To illustrate how serious the situation is, the petitioner plans to use river Kuja as an example.

He says: "During heavy rains in those good days, river Kuja used to roar, and the roar could be heard some 15-20 kilometres away. Today, the river barely makes a sound, however much it rains."