Environmental groups under the umbrella ‘Climate Change Champions’ domiciled in the 20 wards of in West Pokot county have presented a petition to the local county assembly over wanton destruction of Kamatira forest.
Group chairperson Dennis Kapchok said the county government has not enacted the County Climate Change Fund as part of national and international obligations towards environmental conservation.
"About 35 per cent of the forest has been depleted. We need the county government to speed up the process of enactment and implementation of West Pokot Climate Change Fund Act," said Mr Kapchok.
"There is no adequate civic education, capacity building of Community Forest Association and meaningful participation of women, youth and people with disabilities in preservation and conservation efforts of Kamatira Forest,” he added.
The group said charcoal burning and illegal logging of indigenous trees for timber, fencing poles and firewood is threatening the existence of the expansive forest.
Deliberate and accidental fires during the prolonged drought have also seen several acres of the forest cover destroyed, posing a threat to water catchments and rivers in the region whose water tables are drastically dropping.
The impact is also to blame for low rainfall patterns, resource-based conflicts over pasture and water, food, as well as insecurity and desertification.
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Mr Kapchok noted that there is an existing commitment made by all counties in Kenya for the establishment of a public fund designed to finance local climate change adaptation strategies.
“There is need to ascertain the percentage of damage to the forest occasioned by illegal felling of trees and fires and recommend strategies for implementation of 100 percent forest cover within a five-year period,” he added.
Kapckok noted that the forest protection camp at Kaa-Ranger was destroyed during construction of the Kamatira-Cheptongei tarmac road.
In the petition also submitted to the county commissioner and county government offices, the group recommended strategies for establishment and capacity building of Kamatira Community Forest Associations and rigorous civic education for communities adjacent to the forest for ownership and upscale protection efforts.
The group also recommended establishment of a forest rangers' camp and erection of standard watch towers in strategic areas of the forest for vigilance and conservation efforts, following the destruction of a rangers camp that was established during the colonial era.
Leach Chebitwey, a member of the group, said climate change has triggered a long drought and also landslides during heavy rain seasons in the region.
“We are having a lot of problems due to felling of trees. We need to protect our forests so that we can get rainfall," said Ms Chebitwey.
"All these should come to an end after the petition is passed in the assembly. There is a lot of desertification and families suffering in Kamatira and Cherangany forests,” she added.
Helen Chepkorir, a resident, said mothers have been affected due to cutting of trees because they walk long distances for water.
“If you cut one tree, plant two. Women are the ones who look for food. Young girls have been affected as they walk more than seven kilometres searching for water and fail to go to school,” she said.