The call for climate action is urgent and one that cannot be postponed. The signs are all around us – the rise in world temperatures, floods, mudslides, hurricanes etc have become daily realities in most parts of the planet today. Recognizing the crucial necessity to inspire action and respond to the climate crisis, countries are called upon to implement strategies to halt the negative impacts this human development defining issue of our time.
Kenya, like many countries, is being affected by the changes in climatic conditions such as increased rainfall in some areas, and prolonged drought conditions in others like arid and semi-arid regions.
Recently, floods and mud landslides have been experienced in West Pokot, Baringo, Elgeyo-Marakwet and surrounding counties. These have resulted in lives being lost and property being destroyed. According to the Government of Kenya more than 100 people lost their lives, with the highest number being reported in West Pokot County. According to the County Government of West Pokot officials estimated that more than 10,000 people were displaced from homes due to floods and mudslides in last year’s rainy season.
These mudslides are directly related to local deforestation and related climate change leading to unpredictable and extreme weather patterns in the region. The loss of trees has caused soil erosion and flooding. It has also contributed to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Charcoal burning and overgrazing especially in the forests for instance in Kapkanyar and Kaprech forests are the main causes of deforestation. According to Kenya Forest Service (“KFS”), West Pokot County has one of the lowest forests covers in Kenya, currently standing at 4.4%. Trees are essential in controlling and retaining water, as well as reducing surface runoff that would otherwise erode topsoil. Further the trees help regulate the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. Fewer trees due to deforestation ultimately means there is an increase in runoff water as there is less water retention, eventually leading to soil eroding easily, causing floods and mudslides.
“What is happening in West Pokot is alarming. A total of 15-acre young forest has been depleted and uprooted in Kanyaltin by residents” according to Allan Ongere the County Ecosystem Conservator.
The issue of West Pokot is just one example of the effects of deforestation and forest degradation which is a result of forest encroachment, charcoal burning and overgrazing in the area.
UNDP is implementing the REDD+ readiness process in Kenya with the aim of reducing greenhouse emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. The Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry is putting in place mechanisms to ensure for sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. With the work of the Greening Kenya Initiative aimed planting more than 1.8 million trees; the increase of trees and forests will eventually remove significant amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (because trees store large amounts of carbon and play a significant role in storing water which reduces flooding and mudslides caused by soil erosion).
In order to achieve this, active government and stakeholder engagement, including local and forest-dependent communities, is paramount. Through working together and building the capacity of stakeholders, issues of deforestation and forest degradation will be tackled collectively and eventually contribute to reducing greenhouse emissions in Kenya.
“It is not possible for any single actor – government or UN or stakeholder to achieve the ambitious targets on their own [to increase Kenya’s 10% forest cover]. It is a collective responsibility.” Walid Badawi (UNDP RR)
The issue of deforestation and forest degradation needs to be tackled urgently by all and measures have to be put in place at the community level to mitigate the effects of climate change. This can be achieved through Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries including Kenya