Over 25% of Forest Cover Lost to Ecosystem Encroachments Threatening Natural Capital, Wildlife and Livelihoods in Kenya and the Region
UNEP Pledges Continued Support and Calls for Urgent Action at Strategic Partners Forum
Nairobi, 9 September 2009 - A multimillion dollar appeal to save the Mau Forests Complex has been launched by the Government of Kenya at a Partners Forum hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The appeal aims to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mau, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400,000 hectares - the size of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares combined.
The strategic importance of the Mau Forest lies in the ecosystem services it provides to Kenya and the region, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation.
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: "The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project."
Kenyan Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga said: "I wish to thank the Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Achim Steiner and his staff for the informed leadership and technical support they provided. Today we gather here to define the way forward for the Mau, I wish to appeal to every Kenyan and development partner to support the Government's efforts to rehabilitate the Mau by ensuring adequate resources are mobilized to preserve and conserve the ecosystem."
Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares - approximately 25% - of its forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, illegal resources extraction, in particular logging and charcoal burning, the change of land use from forest to unsustainable agriculture and change in ownership from public to private.
Excised areas include critical upper water catchments for the rivers and the lakes fed by the Mau, bamboo forests and biodiversity rich areas, as well as parts of the Mau escarpment summit.
Deterioration in the Mau ecosystem has impacted major natural assets and development investments around Kenya.
If encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the forest ecosystem continues, it will only be a matter of time before the entire ecosystem is irreversibly damaged with significant socio-economic consequences and ramifications to internal security and conflict, warns a report on the 'Rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem', released by the Kenyan Government's Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex.
The Mau Complex is the single most important source of water for direct human consumption in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya.
The report warns that continued destruction of the forests will inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.
The Mau Complex is the largest of the five "water towers" of Kenya, forming the upper catchments of all main rivers in the Western part of Kenya.
These rivers are the lifeline of major lakes in Kenya and transboundary lakes such as Lake Victoria in the Nile River Basin; Lake Turkana in Kenya and Ethiopia, and lake Natron in Tanzania and Kenya.
But perennial rivers are becoming seasonal, storm flows and downstream flooding are increasing and wells and springs are drying up. The water stress in the Mau is largely attributed to land degradation and deforestation.
At the global level, there are increasing concerns over biodiversity loss, increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss and poor soil and water resources.
While climate change may be a major contributor to the current crisis, the destruction of the forests has reduced the ability of the Mau ecosystem to absorb or reduce the impact of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of the people to changing weather patterns.
The appeal for the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem is launched at a time when Kenya struggles to cope with the consequences of widespread drought which has lead to water and electricity rationing across the country.
The Task Force report points out that the extensive degradation of the Mau Forests Complex could cost Kenya billions of Kenyan Shillings annually from losses in key economic sectors supported by the Mau ecosystem services, including energy, tourism, agriculture, and water supply.
Wildlife hubs such as Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are among the areas impacted affecting wildlife and tourism activities.
Energy projects including Sondu Miriu Hydropower scheme (60 MW), Naivasha geothermal plants, small hydropower plants (4MW) and tea growing areas in Kericho Highlands have also been impacted, among others.
Degradation is likely to jeopardize current and future development plans, despite the Mau Complex's significant economic potential.
The estimated potential hydropower generation capacity in the Mau Complex catchments is approximately 535 MW - which is 41% of the current total installed electricity generation capacity in Kenya.
The growing geothermal potential in the area is directly dependent on groundwater. If the water table declines the geothermal potential diminishes.
Prime Minister Odinga declared, "Our sights are set high on rehabilitating the Mau Forest Complex to function and provide its ecosystem services to this nation and the Eastern Africa region. We are looking at securing the livelihoods and economies of millions of Africans who directly and indirectly depend on the ecosystem."
The restoration of the Mau is a strategic priority that requires substantial resources and political will. A ten-point intervention plan has been identified by the Interim Coordinating Secretariat to implement the recommendations of the Mau Forest Task Force for immediate and medium-term action. Key interventions include:
- Creation of Effective Institutional Frameworks
- Strategic Management Plan for the Mau Forest Complex
- Public Awareness and Community Sensitization
- Boundary surveys and Issuance of Title Deeds for Forest Blocks
- Monitoring and Enforcement
- Relocation and Resettlement
- Livelihood Support and Development
- Restoration and Replanting of degraded Sites
- Private Sector Investment
- Resource Mobilization
Looking forward, environmental stability and secured provision of ecological goods and services will remain essential to attain sustainable development in Kenya. They are cross-cutting, underlying requirements to achieve vision 2030 - Kenya's development blueprint.
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