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Secure Kenya’s water towers, forest dwellers say

By Betty Njeru | September 23rd 2020
Aerial view Mt. Elgon, one of Kenya’s water towers. [Benjamin Sakwa/Standard]

Community Land Action Now (CLAN) wants the government to implore the European Union (EU) not to cancel funding for a Water Towers Project over abuse of human rights.

CLAN, a community made up of forest dwellers, hunter-gatherers and pastoralists wants the government to instead consider a win-win solution, which can protect the forest as well as allow a safe home for forest dwellers.

“We urge the Government of Kenya to instead grasp the win-win solution in front of them: to begin a process which allows Kenya’s forest dwellers to live in agreed glades and other such areas like moorlands where trees do not naturally grow,” CLAN said in a statement.

The agency says that if EU withdraws or cancels funding for the project completely, other donors will turn their back on Kenya too, which in turn will only benefit other countries.

On Wednesday, CLAN blamed the government for settling matters by use of pre-colonial methods, for instance, destroying forests in the name of conservation.

“Our forest communities have had to stand by and watch their forests destroyed. This has been in the wrong way of conservation – the old, colonial, way, which ignored the very people who can offer most to save a forest,” it said.

CLAN also wants land titles returned to the rightful owners and some communities recognised in the process, and that they are allowed to live peacefully and sustainably in agreed areas such as glades, moorlands and within their ancestral lands.

In 2018, the European Union cut short funding for the water tower project over human rights abuses.

This followed the murder of a member of the indigenous Sengwer community and shooting of another by Kenyan Forest Guards in Kapkok Glade, Marakwet.

The Sh3.6 billion project in partnership with the Kenyan government was planned for the next six years.

Forest fires

This and last year, fire incidents have been reported in at least ten national forests, raising alarm, and threatening their ecosystems. 

A report seen by The Standard on the incidents suggested that almost all of them were started by arsonists.

In its statement, CLAN said that this can be resolved if forest communities are allowed to remain in the forests, as they fight day and night to stop fires coming into their lands.

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