Save Lamu commemorated the International Days of Water and Forests on the 22nd of March 2017 with over 100 community members on Lamu Island. Also in attendance were representatives from Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Lamu Water and Sewerage Limited Company (LAWASCO). They discussed the deteriorating status of water and forests in Lamu County and what steps were being taken to curb the challenges from the unsustainable use of these important resources.
During the session, issues of climate change effects on these important resources–water and forests—were discussed.
Mr. Paul Maina, Managing Director of LAWASCO, explained how the island’s drinking water originates in the Shela sand dunes, with its unique geographical position supported by a coral reef below, which prevents the harvested rain water from mixing with the salty ocean water. The scarcity of water in Lamu was discussed and the community residents asked many questions to LAWASCO to explain where the water was going.
The community asked if water was being siphoned for construction use, especially in development projects, including the Chinese work force building the Lamu Port. Mr. Maina maintained however that the port site receives its water from Hindi Division. This statement contradicted his earlier statement that the water at Hindi is saline and unfit for human consumption. The contradictory statements left community members anxious about the status of water in Lamu and whether our water resource will be sustainable under the pressure of over utilization, drought and climate change.
The Kenya Forest Service, represented by Mr. Maneno, explained the different categories of forests found in Lamu, which are public, private, community and provisional forests. He also described the different types of forests: marine and terrestrial.
He emphasized on the importance of forest resources in Lamu, from providing resources for construction materials to the large role forests play in reducing soil erosion, from being a home for wildlife, to providing a source of energy, from sources of natural medicines to helping to combat Climate Change.
Mr. Maneno buttressed the importance of forests by stating how different economic sectors in Lamu are supported by marine and terrestrial forests, including tourism, agriculture and energy. He also stated that “Lamu’s mangrove forest forms the majority of all the mangrove in Kenya– up to about 64%” is found here. ” “Without mangroves,” he confirmed, “marine life will be seriously threatened.”
The community members present asked KFS why the sustainable harvesting of banaa was illegal yet development projects, like the Lamu Port and the proposed coal plant, were allowed to destroy whole sections of mangrove vegetation?
When asked how the KFS allows the felling of trees for charcoal burning Mr. Maneno confirmed that people receive licences from them for this purpose. Nathan Mutunga, on behalf of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), presented a brief overview of Lamu County’s spatial plan. He also described the recent devastation of the Mpeketoni Lake Basin as primarily due to human encroachment on the area.
“Initiating developments without proper planning,” Mr. Nathan explained, “has resulted in almost 11 acres of wetland being lost in the primary stage.” Further he stated, “the LAPSSET project alone will result in the loss of about 82 acres of wetlands”.
On climate change, Mr. Hashim from the Shungwaya Welfare Association explained that the development projects planned in Lamu County will add to the effects of climate change. To illustrate this he explained that the new Lamu Port will have fleets of ships coming to port and releasing carbon dioxide into the air and the operating coal plant will release millions of metric tonnes of CO2 annually. These pollutants will increase green house gases that effect climate change and in turn exacerbate food insecurity in Kenya.
Mr. Hashim aired his concerns that Lamu Archipelago, made up of many small islands, will be extremely affected by the rising water levels caused by climate change. The results of rising tides may see areas close to the sea submerged and people will lose lands and property. His statement brought home the reality of climate change on our local community and many residents implored the authorities present to take action to ensure that these national development projects do not come at a price to be borne by the community, which is higher than the gains, if any at all.