Rapid desertification in Kenya threatening livelihood

By Rawlings Otieno

Kenya: Drought has eroded the country’s natural resources to an extent that they are inadequate for production and support for livelihoods, Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu has said.

She said that most affected populations are characterized by widespread acute poverty, chronic food shortages, inadequate social services and harsh climatic conditions resulting from frequent and prolonged droughts.

“Droughts have accelerated soil degradation and reduced per-capita food production. In the last decade alone, four major food crises have all been triggered by desertification,” said Wakhungu.

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In a speech read on her behalf by the Environment Secretary Alice Kaudia during the celebrations to mark World Day to Combat Desertification in Elgeyo, Wakhungu said that desertification; land degradation and drought have adverse impact on the availability, quantity and quality of water resources.

Desertification processes have led to massive internal migrations, forcing communities to flee their localities to already-overcrowded areas thereby causing disputes over scarce resources use.

Although the government has put in place National Food Security and Nutrition Policy, the quantity and quality of food available, accessible and affordable to all Kenyans, achieve good nutrition for optimum health has remained a challenge.

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“Kenyans should pro-actively guard against deforestation, charcoal burning and other activities that may endanger water resources and the environment,” she added.

National Environment Management Authority (Nema) Director Geoffrey Wahungu acknowledges that the challenge to NEMA and other stakeholders is to save the disappearing rivers due to siltation, stop deforestation, control effects of drought and prevent massive land degradation occasioned by unsustainable anthropogenic activities.

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The continued loss of very fertile soils in the country because of the increased demand for land occasioning settlement in very fragile ecosystems like in hilly places, riparian areas.  Deforestation, and over grazing due to unsustainable livestock husbandry among others are other problems experienced in the ASALs.

This year’s theme was “Droughts and Water Scarcity: Fresh water is valuable” and the slogan “Don’t let our future dry up’.

“Nema faces a challenge in stopping deforestation which is made even worse because of the poor farming methods and the effect of climate change. All these have combined to increase the rate of desertification in the country.  We must curb desertification in this county and other affected areas by all means,” said Wahungu.

Various environmental challenges within the Elgeyo Marakwet County have been noted which include increased natural habitat loss, soil erosion, proliferation of invasive species (Prosopis juliflora), deforestation particularly the Mau and Cherangani Forests, overgrazing and unsustainable exploitation of the mineral resources.

Other issues are; poor waste management especially in urban areas, degenerating tourist and historical sites, flooding, droughts and poor farming methods among others. All these have a potential to affect sustainable development if not addressed.

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At the micro-level of development, the conservation of the River Kerio and Lake Kamnarok will contribute to improved livelihoods of the people while the conservation of the forests; Kerio, Cherangani and Kaptagat will contribute to increased rainfall in the area and this will translate into enhanced productivity of the land.

And on his part, Nema Board of Managament Chair Maluki Mwenda said that food scarcity cannot be delinked from desertification as large swathes of hitherto productive agricultural land continue to give less and less, as a result of adverse weather conditions brought about by climate change and other man made factors.

“The fact that desertification is spreading fast in Kenya is cause for alarm given that over 80 per cent of our land is ASAL. The pastoralists now move for longer distances not only in search of pasture but also to water their animals. Those forced migrations are potential sources of conflict,” said Mwenda.

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National Environment Management Authority desertification Judy Wakhungu