alexa Kenyans keep ignoring the environment at own peril - Daily Nation

Kenyans keep ignoring the environment at own peril

Monday June 15 2009


KENYA’S FUTURE ABILITY TO improve the livelihoods of millions of ordinary folks hangs in the balance following the unabated onslaught on the environment.

Rivers are fast drying up and wetlands turning to dry lands. Human-human and human-wildlife conflicts remain a time-bomb waiting to happen.

This arises from our preoccupation with short-term economic gains at the expense of the environmental good.

The building and construction sector, while a source of jobs, has more than ever before become one of the worst threats to our environment.

From Nairobi, Mombasa to Kisii and other urban areas countrywide, tragedies of collapsing buildings constructed on wetlands and other environmentally fragile areas have become the norm rather than the exception.

Curiously, the earlier tough talk by government about bringing down such buildings has fizzled out, and has been replaced by a conspiracy of silence and inaction.

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT THE government would have made good its threat, compensation for the developments, which were approved by the same government, would have been too expensive legally for the ailing economy.

Without a doubt, the environment is a source of constant acrimony over who, between the Ministry of Lands, the City Council and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), ought to take responsibility for uncontrolled development. This has left the affected residents confused.

The disjointed nature of government agencies with a role on the environment does not improve the situation. While the climate change unit is perched at the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of the Environment does not seem to be driving the process.

Again, the link between the Sh14 billion Nairobi river basin restoration project with other line agencies seems to have serious operational and logistical challenges.

That the Commissioner of Lands would publicly confirm that the parking area next to Nairobi’s Westgate building is improper and yet he does not move to immediately revoke the affected title to the plot several months down the line, means that it is ‘‘business as usual’’ on that front.

Given that sections of government confirm that proceeds from the deep waters piracy could have found a new home in Nairobi’s property market, uncontrolled developments are going on with great zest. And it is not clear whether the sector regulators will adopt a new strategy to counter the menace.

Even those who conceived Vision 2030 cannot escape blame for not prioritising the environment. The document lays more emphasis on economic, political and social pillars than the environment pillar.

But what do uncontrolled developments lead to? Firstly, they complicate the management of urban transport and traffic flows.

A major irritant for the majority residents and visitors to Nairobi is the heavy traffic jam. Secondly, these structures lower property values. They also undermine privacy and the security of the affected neighbourhoods.

The planned Northern bypass could be a fitting example. The objectives and priorities as they were planned in the 1960s may surely have changed given the socio-economic dynamics at play nearly a generation later.

But when technocrats at the Ministry of Roads insist that they would not want to embrace some of the concerns raised by the affected residents of the section between Kiambu and Limuru, it portends danger for the environment.

ONE WONDERS WHY, FOR A PROJECT as large as this, the impact assessment was carried out by the contractor and not by Nema.

The fact that Nema has finally issued environmental clearance licences for both the Northern and Southern by-passes without adequately addressing the fears of residents on the environment, confirms the conflicts roads and other developments are sure to create.

The lesson from this unfolding conflict is simple and straightforward — urban planning, environment and social planning must be well coordinated.

Mr Mutoro is the chief executive officer, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA).