Diminishing forest cover has thrown Kenya into a countrywide dilemma. Experts are blaming the mess for recurrent environmental stresses such as droughts and floods. The Mau complex is important for water catchment for the region. Its forests form the upper catchments of 12 main rivers that drain into five major lakes: Baringo, Nakuru, Natron, Turkana, and Victoria.
Three of these lakes are international: Natron (Kenya/Tanzania), Turkana (Kenya/Ethiopia) and Victoria (Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda). Considering that five of these 12 rivers flow into Lake Victoria, the Mau Forest complex is important to the River Nile water resources. In the tea sector alone, some 35,000 jobs and the livelihoods of 50,000 small farmers, supporting at least 430,000 dependants, benefit from the ecological services provided by Mau.
The complex, being the largest closed canopy forest ecosystem, provides critical ecological services, in terms of water storage, river flow regulation, flood mitigation, recharge of groundwater and water purification. In addition, the Mau Forest complex is the source of water supply to several urban centres.livelihood to communities
It is the home of a minority group of indigenous forest dwellers, the Ogiek, and provides livelihood to communities in the immediate forest surrounding. The Government estimates 1.5 million people live in the basin.
Environment minister John Michuki last week said the Mau matter was wider and more complex than the 10,000 people occupying the forestland. He said they have to be relocated. Overexploitation of the Mau complex has made low-lying areas vulnerable to climate change and variability. Forest adjacent communities depend on it for water, firewood, grazing, fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants.
Poverty and resource conflicts are now on the increase. Conflicts over access to water and land have also resulted in politically instigated ethnic clashes in parts of the basin. "Degradation is associated with activities of communities residing in and around the Mau Forest complex through activities such as firewood collection, overstocking livestock, encroachment, illegal logging for timber and charcoal production," says a taskforce report on Mau Forest.Under closed canopy
The latest assessment of the vegetation cover indicates Mau complex had approximately 71 per cent of its area under closed canopy in 1973.
Mixed settlements, cultivated areas and patches of grassland covered about 3.2 per cent and open canopy covered about 24.1 per cent of the forest area. By 2003, closed canopy had decreased to 37 per cent, open canopy increased to 32 per cent while settlements and cultivated areas increased five times its size in 1973.
Tested ground water yield has been found to be high in Keringet area while the northern and western parts of the Mara river basin are the wettest, recording 1,200 to 1,800mm per year, making the complex the country's main fresh water source. Several rivers and streams supply fresh water to areas of high biodiversity and originate in these forests. The Mara River originating on the western flank of the Mau escarpment flows through the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem before discharging into Lake Victoria.
Others include Sondu, Yala, Nzoia and Nyando rivers, which all flow into Lake Victoria. Streams originating in the Eburru basin flow into Lake Nakuru and Naivasha, which are designated as Ramsar and Unesco World Heritage Sites.
The Ewaso Nyiro River drains into Lake Natron in Tanzania, which is the only regular breeding site for the more than two million flamingos found on the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa, while the Kerio and Molo rivers feed Lake Turkana and Baringo.
Today most of the rivers have turned seasonal and people forced to walk long distances for water. Water demand in Nakuru and Eldoret has increased. The increasing pollution levels through erosion and other avenues have exacerbated the prevalence of waterborne diseases during flash floods around the Mau.Wildlife survival
River Mara supports the popular Masai Mara Game Reserve and hence is key to the survival of wildlife in the resource and the neighbouring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. But the river is now drying up, further increasing the danger of future human wildlife conflict.
Along the Sondu River lies the Sondu Miriu Hydropower complex, expected to contribute 60mw to the national grid. The Njoro River provides water to Lake Nakuru, another world famous tourist destination. The lake is fast shrinking and its catchments gradually being dominated by scrubland. Other rivers whose source is Mau Forest include Kipchorian, Kiptarei, Timbilil, Sausa, Jamji, Chemosit and Kipteget.Last Edited: Mon 27th July 2009 at 08:13:23 PM