Several thousand squatters and illegal settlers were evicted last week from several forests in Tanzania, including their livestock, in order to protect forests and water catchment areas crucial to maintain biodiversity. Forest guards and police to ensure the evicted persons cannot return destroyed their illegal settlements.
This eviction marked the start of a national campaign in Tanzania to restore forests and keep wetlands and water catchment areas intact. This is now happening across the region, where, for instance, Rwanda is restoring a 50 kilometers strip of forest, while in Kenya and Uganda forest invaders and illegal settlers and squatters face removal too from the forested areas they occupy.
These apparently coordinated activities, however, also need to go hand in hand with a reduction in population growth to reduce future pressure on forests, wetlands and protected areas, while at the same time intensifying the conversion of small scale farming to productive agro industries, able to feed growing populations by using modern farming methods.
Climate change, already taking its toll on the East African region, has reportedly added to advancing desertification and seemingly hastened the cycles of drought and excessive rains, making it imperative to restore forest covers in water catchment areas to avoid top soil being washed away and flash floods originating from areas stripped of trees.
The increase in temperatures over the past decades have also brought new health hazards to many areas previously free of malaria, as the anopheles mosquitoes now appear at ever higher altitudes, claiming increasing numbers of victims amongst populations which had not developed any natural resistance to the killer disease.
The ice caps of the East African mountains like Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, but also across the Rwenzori mountain range along the border between Uganda and Congo, have greatly reduced in recent decades, in particular since the beginning of this century when the melting has in fact accelerated even more.
Should these reservoirs of fresh water disappear altogether, it would affect millions upon millions of people nearby and further off, who depend on the mountains streams and rivers for irrigation, watering livestock and for domestic use.
The ice runoff from Kilimanjaro also provides long distance water to the Kenyan coast, presently originating from the Mzima Springs in Tsavo West National Park while another pipeline runs from Loitokitok towards Machakos and the drying up of these supplies would cause extreme hardships for populations depending for their dear life on this water.
Alongside, the swamps of Amboseli national park provide water and food for the famous bird- and wildlife and in particular the elephant population, but should the water supply from Kilimanjaro to the swamps be drastically reduced or even exhausted, the park could be turned into a dust bowl with the loss of most if not all wildlife and the loss of a valuable tourism resource not just for Kenya but East Africa as a whole.
Around the park, the farms depend on the availability of water to irrigate crops and again, while the soil is fertile, without sufficient water the area cannot produce enough food for residents and to ship commercial quantities to major market places, earning the cash needed to keep the communities going.
In Uganda, the latest climate report anticipates a rise in average temperature by 1.5 degrees over the next 20 years, compared to the 1970s, ringing the alarm bells across the board about the implications of such a development for the agricultural sector, the country’s health care system and a range of other related issues going along with it.
Africa will go into the Copenhagen Climate Summit with a unified position and is expected to present a “bill” to the developed and industrialized countries to assist the continent to embrace green technologies and mitigate the fallout from past and future climate change.
However, should Africa secure the agreement of the developed world for compensatory payments, terms and conditions will undoubtedly be attached to a deal and improved governance, best international practice, accountability, transparency and a determined fight against corruption will be absolutely necessary before even one shilling will change hands.