Settlers want to leave Mau, politicians don’t

Sunday August 2 2009

Members of the Ogiek community who live in the Nessuit area of the Mau Forest display title deeds they say were issued to them by the government in the 1990s. Photo/JOSEPH KIHERI and  WILLIAM OERI

Members of the Ogiek community who live in the Nessuit area of the Mau Forest display title deeds they say were issued to them by the government in the 1990s. Photo/JOSEPH KIHERI and WILLIAM OERI 

By NATION Team

Farmers who got land in the Mau Forest Complex are ready to leave the water catchment area... but politicians have been telling them to stay put.

Most of the settlers interviewed by the Nation said they were willing to pave the way for the rehabilitation of Kenya’s largest water tower as long as they are adequately compensated.

But they do not know what to do because politicians have been telling them to stay put even as the government says they have to leave. And as politicians wrangle over the forest, a report paints a clear picture of the immense importance of this vital water tower.

Mau Complex under Siege: Values and Threats, a joint presentation of the United Nations Environmental Programme, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forests Working Group, and Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority, which was published in May last year, tells the great potential and grim reality of the fast dwindling forest complex.

The Mau Complex covers some 40,000 hectares which is as large as Mount Kenya and the Aberdares combined. It is the largest forest cover in Kenya. The other four water towers are Mount Kenya, the Abardare Ranges, Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills.

Drying up

Rivers with their sources in the Mau have been drying up at an alarming rate with devastating consequences in such places as Lake Nakuru, the second most visited destination in Kenya; and the Maasai Mara.

This year, the migration of the wildebeest has not been spectacular because the drama of the beasts crossing the River Mara as crocodiles hunt them down by the dozen is absent as many of the crocodiles die due to lack of water on the river.

The report also seeks to highlight the international nature of the water tower. Three of the lakes fed by the rivers originating in Mau are cross boundary. They are lakes Victoria, Turkana and Natron.

All these are threatened by encroachment into the forest, which is also key to people’s livelihood. Some five million people live in area crossed by rivers originating in Mau.