A team of experts drawn from the government and the European Union (EU) is holding talks with the aim of unlocking the Sh3.6 billion suspended aid meant to protect Kenya’s five water towers.
An independent panel of experts from the EU is engaging several stakeholders in pursuit of an amicable solution to the row to enable implementation of the project aimed at protecting water catchment areas.
“A team of four experts from EU are on the ground pursuing lasting solutions to the suspension of funding of the water tower conservation programme,” said Dedan Nderitu, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) head of conservancy, North Rift region.
The EU suspended the Sh3.6 billion Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation conservation Programme funding following death of a herder in forceful eviction of the Sengwer, a minority tribe living in Embobut forest.
The six year programme is aimed at tackling poverty by promoting productivity of ecosystem services at Cherangany and Mt Elgon forest and covers 11 counties.
According to Mr Nderitu, the suspension of the programme has affected operations and efforts to rehabilitate the towers.
“We are engaging community members in protection of our ecosystems as the team of consultants address issues that led to EU suspending funding to the conservation project,” said Mr Nderitu.
The programme was suspended in January. “Accordingly, we are now suspending the support to the Water Towers Programme with the Government of Kenya,” said Stephano Dejak, head of EU delegation in Kenya while announcing the move.
The Sengwer community, while opposing the project, argued that it interfered with their ancestral land. KFS guards are said to have used excessive force during the evictions intended to pave the way for a EU-funded project.
The EU had warned the government that continued use of force against innocent locals would lead to suspension of its financial support.
“We ask the government to recognise our rights as forest dwellers and channel the funds to support conservation measures instead of resorting to evictions,” said David Kiptum Yator, a community member.
The United Nations experts last month called on Kenyan authorities to halt the fresh wave of evictions of the Sengwer that started late December.
The UN noted more than 100 armed forest service guards had invaded traditional lands of the Sengwer, burning at least 15 homes and killing their livestock.
The programme involves 11 county governments in the North Rift and Western Kenya namely Kisumu, Nandi, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Vihiga, West Pokot, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu.
The Kenya Forest Research Institute, Kenya Wildlife Services, Kenya Water Tower Agency, KFS and Climate Change Secretariat are working together in the rehabilitation efforts of the ecosystems.
The Sengwer have for five decades fought the government over the right to live in the Embobut forest in the Cherangany Hills from where they were first evicted by British colonialists in the 19th century.
The community is reported to have moved back into the forest after they were evicted and compensated in 2014.
According to former Environment Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu, climate change is estimated to cost the country’s economy Sh50 billion.
“We recently experienced high temperatures with increased frequency of drought and floods. The extreme climate changes threaten our progress towards attainment of Kenya’s Vision 2030 targets,” said Ex-CS during the launch the European Union conservation efforts of the five water towers in 2016.
Experts warn that the destruction of the five water towers -the Mau forest, Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Cherangany Hills and Mt Elgon has had negative impacts on economic growth.
Economic studies put the benefit to the national economy of the Aberdares at Sh60 billion and the Mau complex at Sh120 billion.
“Complex encroachments have led to the destruction of over 107,000 hectares over the last two decades, representing 25 percent of the Mau,” said the report released in June last year.
The experts now warn that that most towns are likely to experience recurrent water shortages as some of the rivers are in the verge of drying up due to environmental degradation and climate change.