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Environmental impacts of mushrooming villages and unplanned land use in Northern Kenya

By Ahmed Abdi Hassan:

Grazing lands is diminishing in the region due to increasing number of unplanned settlements.

We usually hear proper land use as early as grade four in schools; do we really internalize the actual meaning? I have no doubt all of us heard the term environmental impacts in our basic education; do we truly understand what it means?

Look at our cities, planning and land use is becoming our main challenge, governor Kidero and many other governors’ headache is city planning, which literally translates to proper land use, but no one pays attention to the fast rate burgeoning small poorly inhabited villages in all corners of our backyards with maximum of ten or less household with no social amenities including basic education and medical facilities. Why do we need these villages in every five kilometers in Northern Kenya? Is it that we need to create position for one of us to become a chief? Is it that we love to live isolate?

Pastoralism is a backbone of our economy and I can bet any other source of livelihood like fishing or farming will not be feasible and is doomed to fail because of cultural influence, interest, available capital and for many other reasons our source of living will ever remain livestock. Several non-governmental and governmental agencies tried to pump dollars to change the perception of northerners neither livestock insurance scheme was left out but with no or little success.

The natural environment in Northern Kenya comprises thin soil sparsely covered with drought-resistant perennial shrubs and succulent. These provide good grazing during autumn and spring rains. Low trees like acacias stand near watercourses in which streams, lakes and rivers may be found. The temporary housing often anchored at such places, while the livestock are taken out to graze nearby open fields.

When the water and pasture are exhausted the herders will move to another suitable place. The sticks for the temporary hut are obtained from any neighboring trees particularly from Cordia sinensis (Mareer) tied together by cambium layer of the plants, and utensils and tools made from other types of wood.

The domestic livestock also harmoniously co-exist with wild animals in the grazing lands and water points. The beauty was obvious when it rains well in our beautiful landscapes as Macfarlane puts well in his essay “the power of strong style and single words to shape our senses of place,” where he wrote the thousands of wonderful words in his book including Ammil, Caochan, Honeyfur and Smeuse describing the beauty of well rained place were definitely clear in our Northern Kenya during heydays.

I am yet to know the cause of the lost glory of our scenery region when it deluges, is it because of the persistent recurrent droughts? The simple answer is no, because drought has long history dating back to 2000 years as scientifically proven through historical documents and ancient journals. The problem is improper land use that had adverse effects on our vast livestock grazing lands and migration routes of many ecological inhabitants that play critical role in the ecosystem like famous birds’ hornbill, eagle, ostrich and crow that have significantly reduced in number or totally displaced by our unplanned vulnerable settlements dwelled by only one family, let me call it rer heblow village for now.

Many of these birds require enormous peaceful migration routes and some of them cover about one thousand kilometers in search of food. Most of the breeding areas specially the hollow trees all destroyed and grazing lands converted to rer heblow village. During drought and dry seasons the pastoralists had the opportunity to travel in massive land that survives their livestock for long period which is now no more.

Another observation I have made is loss of important common creatures like bees making the natural honey in the trees, ant hills and even on the hollow ground places for now that’s a lost splendor because bees love quiet non-smoky places with abundant nectar flowers.

We must admit that the scattered rer heblow villages were created politically but is not in the interest of the poor people; number one they lack the rudimentary facilities like schools, water, food, shelter and even hospital while the next town which is 5 kilometers away has all the amenities including at least four running boreholes, well developed hospital, booming businesses and well equipped schools.

Why can’t we have few well developed towns with water piping systems, electricity, better drainage systems, and better schools with better resources than having hundreds of rer heblow villages? for the interest of our poor children education and future for the interest of our poor illiterate people who are used by the politicians for their own personal gains because several villages everywhere will only divide the little resources available like constituency development funds (CDF) and county goodies for no apparent reason.

In conclusion, drought and famine are not the cause of the loss of our livestock but rather lack of proper planning and the mushrooming of rer heblow villages are our nightmares. I therefore, recommend to merge all rer heblow villages to the bigger cosmopolitan coexisting towns, so that the bantam available resources can be utilized properly and efficiently by developing better, the existing schools than creating new schools with no teachers or building new hospitals with no even one nurse.

It is worthwhile increasing the number of boreholes in the existing towns and making appropriate water piping systems than sinking new boreholes in the middle of the grazing lands with less than five households.

The writer is an Environmental Research Scientist at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Saudi Arabia


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