By David Njagi
MERU, Kenya  – Ngai Mutuoboro, 70, may not wield the vibrancy of his youthful days, but he can still pack a punch when it comes to environmental conservation.

The elder from Tharaka Nithi County in upper eastern Kenya, has been arrested, harassed and even lost a member of his community group, for agitating against illegal exploitation of Mt. Kenya forest by pwerful politicians.

At his shanty structure in Kibubua village which flanks the forest to the east, Mutuoboro keeps a collection of documents that show the kind of human rights abuses environmental groups like his, face, when they lobby against politicians involved in illegal logging at one of the biggest water towers in Kenya.

“This is where we were camped last Christmas to protest against illegal tree harvesting at the Kiamuriuki part of Mt. Kenya forest,” he says, showing a local newspaper clip that captured the event. “I was arrested along with 19 of my colleagues by security officers.”

Mutuoboro belongs to the Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka community group that has been agitating for the conservation of the forest since Kenya attained independence.

But despite such efforts, well financed politicians allegedly bribe the local forestry office to continue exploiting the forest – and to curtail Kenyans like him.

Early March this year, three of his colleagues were patrolling part of the forest that is widely deforested, when security officers assailed them. One was shot dead, while the other two sustained bullet wounds in the stomach.

“They accused my colleagues of being in the forest illegally yet the Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka is recognized by the government as a community group that lobbies for the conservation of Mt. Kenya forest,” he observes.

Mutuoboro’s is just but a pinch, of the kind of pressure environment groups are facing in Kenya, following recent efforts to censure the civil society movement in the east African country.

Some, like Mutuoboro’s, have been accused of being community militant groups. More have been accused of money laundering, tax evasion and terrorism. Yet others have been accused of being espionage fronts for foreign powers.

The government is even playing the arm twisting card by accusing Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) of failing to account for donor funding. It has led to an attempt to put a 15 per cent cap on all foreign funding CSOs receive.

All these accusations are meant to justify the deregistering of targeted civil society groups, according to human rights groups.

“We have had a situation where our staff were evicted after CSOs were accused of being espionage assets by politicians,” says Alexandra Chege, the information coordinator at Oxfam GB. “That is why we are even being targeted by the militia group al shabaab.”

The resolve to censure the civil society is no anomaly to unscrupulous politicians, but the extent at which it is leaving a rough patch on Kenya’s fragile ecosystem is a glaring anomaly.  

At the Mt. Kenya forest, a strip of 24,000 acres of land is facing serious politically linked timber logging. In some parts of the forest, aerial images in Mutuoboro’s possession show stretches of land the size of a football field that have been stripped of tree cover.

But it is not Mt. Kenya alone that is feeling the sting of the CSOs censure. The government has declared its intention to excise some 17,000 hectares of land at the Mau forest.

Patches of land in sacred forests like the Kaya in Kenya’s coastal region are being illegally allocated to private developers.

“Community forest conservation groups are the most vulnerable to political manipulation because they are not well informed about the law,” observes Harriet Gichuru of Nature Kenya, whose organization has established a payment for ecosystem services in central Kenya to protect the groups.

But even with such protection, the civil society has not been spared the political offensive. Lately, hostile groups like the al shabaab have discovered their weakened state and are exploiting it to their fill.

In parts of lower eastern Kenya and the northern region where insecurity has left communities vulnerable to militia activity, charcoal burning is stripping the region of its rangeland vegetation.
In lower Eastern Kenya alone, at least 12,000 bags of charcoal with a 90 kilogramme capacity are generated everyday, according to the Kenya Climate Change Network (KCCN).

The local administration has linked the widespread charcoal burning to poor CSO presence due to insecurity. Its officials also say there is high demand for charcoal by the militia group al shabaab.

In 2013, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia annual report estimated that al shabaab’s charcoal exports to the Middle East could be as high as 24 million sacks per year, netting an overall international market value of $ 360 to $ 384 million.  

“Eastern and Northern Kenya are potential sources of charcoal due to insecurity and a porous border with Somalia,” says Joseph Ngondi, an official with KCCN.   
In January this year, the US and Kenya governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help the eastern Africa country fight environmental crime.
The US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, while officiating the signing of the MOU said part of the agreement would improve technology in surveillance to reduce crimes like charcoal trafficking.

“Land cover and satellite imagery is very helpful when it comes to understanding what is happening with illegal logging and deforestation for whatever purposes, whether it is for the export of lumber or charcoal,” said Jewell.

But such advances in technology may not fix the civil society’s jinx, argues George Awalla, the head of programmes at VSO Jitolee, Kenya.

In Awalla’s view, CSOs are established for a purpose, which is largely to take sides with those who are poor and marginalized.   

According to him, CSOs should stay true to the humanitarian narrative, although there could be some that may be flipping their roles.

“The foreign powers also have interests in what happens within Kenya for selfish reasons and also because they know that if they can infiltrate this set up then they will divide the voice of the citizenry,” argues Awalla.

According to him, the Kenya NGOs Coordination Board (KNCB) needs to continue being vigilant to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to weed out CSOs that are suspected to be doing espionage or supporting some activities that are not acceptable within the society set up.

“There should be transparency and honesty in these matters so that we do not have a vendetta and pick it through the whole mechanism of coordinating CSOs,” he says.

At the KNCB, it is unlikely that a visitor will be treated well by the General Service Unit officers who keep sentry there. On a normal day the Board receives thousands of clients seeking for services.

Scola, an official who works there says the Board’s mandate is to register CSOs. But she also says there is an investigative department which keeps vigil on rogue and genuine CSOs.

In the few years that she has worked there, she says, the investigation department has deregistered a few CSOs for allegedly being involved in questionable activities.

“The government of Kenya supports the civil society movement,” says Scola. “We act according to investigations which identify genuine CSOs and the rogue ones.”  

The Kenya Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Water and Natural Resources is cautious to deny or acknowledge there could be CSOs in Kenya involved in questionable activities.

But its chairperson, Amina Abdallah, argues that the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act (PBOA), which among others, recognizes the establishment of CSOs, protects genuine civil society movement in Kenya.

“The PBOA and the Constitution safeguards the due process in any allegation,” Argues Abdalla. “Whoever has been accused of any sabotage activity will have their day in court and prove whether they are right or wrong.”

 That may appear like a farfetched possibility to peasants like Mutuoboro. According to him, community conservation groups are at their lowest point in Kenya.

But Ikal Angelei, the founder of the Friends of Lake Turkana CSO, argues a legislation, like a Climate Change Bill, would place conservation and environmental groups at their perch.

By her estimation, a climate change policy would ensure that the development and interventions that the government, both National and County make, would take care about the communities’ engagement in conservation.

“For me it is important to have a climate change policy and any framework that will enable both National and County governments to be held accountable for any developments that they take into account, whether it is National or County, and whether it conforms with the expectations of the society.”

For now, it will take real government’s intervention for voices like Mutuoboro’s to be heard. But if past patterns are anything to go by, the politician’s might, may carry the day.

And Mutuoboro, just like many other marginalized Kenyans, will continue to voice communities’ expectations on how their resources should be managed.

“There is an emerging phenomenon called climate change,” observes Angelei. “It means that the government must give local communities the freedom to manage their resources. It is something we are watching whether with the government’s censure or not.”

By David Njagi
NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) - The noose is tightening around rogue enterprises which have turned Kenya’s cities and towns into smoke canopies.

An air quality control regulation that the National Environment Authority (NEMA) launched last year will soon enable the agency to fit vehicles and industries with a pollutant unit to monitor their volume of exhaust smoke.

“We are going to stick the unit on vehicles and industries valid for two years to find out if the owner is polluting,” explains Prof. Geoffrey Wakhungu, director general NEMA. “The ones found to be polluting will be forced to dump the dirty asset or find ways to clean it up.”

NEMA has partnered with Kenya Bureau of Standards, Energy Regulatory Commission, Kenya Ports Authority and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to launch this project as part of Kenya’s commitment to grow into a green economy.

But the crackdown on air pollution is not confined to cities alone. According to Prof. Wakhungu, the air pollution control project is a devolved function that involves the participation of county governments.

“We are also going to work with counties,” he explains. “Each of the counties will have a testing center which will be working with the central one for the purpose of setting standards.”

Rob De Jong, UNEP’s head of transport unit estimates that air pollution will become worse by 10 per cent relative to the current levels in the next five years.

A report released during the ongoing United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) lists motor transport, small scale manufacturing, burning solid fuel and coal fired plants as the largest contributors to urban outdoor air pollution.

The report, Actions on Air Quality, estimates that road transport emits 30 per cent of particulates in European cities and up to 50 per cent of emissions within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

“UNEP is urging countries to do more on air quality control by engaging in the air quality control programme,” says De Jong.

Meanwhile, UNEP is testing seven air quality control devices that will be connected to GPS to continually monitor air quality in many locations.

UNEP executive director, Achim Steiner, says in many cities across the world people do not know the air quality status because of poor infrastructure.

“UNEP is working to ensure the cost of technology is lowered to make air quality monitoring affordable,” says Steiner.

Road transport accounted for 50 per cent of the health costs including death and illness in OECD countries due to air pollution in 2010, says the report.    

In January, NEMA released one billion Kenya shillings to 14 counties as part of the national adaptation programme.

But more funds are expected in the next few months if a proposal that NEMA has placed to the Green Climate Fund goes through.

“It has taken us about two years to get the Adaptation Fund,” explains Prof. Wakhungu. “We want to raise money in a structured manner that it can actually be used for the benefit of communities.”

BONN, Germany (PAMACC News) - On the 10th-11th May the Least Developed Countries met in Bonn to prepare for the upcoming climate negotiations beginning on 16th May. This preparatory meeting has been an important opportunity for all LDC negotiators to come together and further develop the collective goals of the LDCs in light of the Bonn negotiations, during which work will begin on developing the modalities, guidelines and procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Chair of the LDC group, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, said 'despite bearing little historic responsibility for climate change, the LDCs have led by example, with unfaltering ambition and a continuing push for fair outcomes in the global community's response to climate change. This ambition and collective spirit has been clearly displayed during our preparatory meetings and we are in a strong position to engage in the upcoming negotiations.'

The LDCs have contributed very little to causing climate change, yet are the most vulnerable to its damaging impacts. As the 48 poorest countries in the world, the LDCs also have the least capacity to adapt to climate change. As Mr Mpanu-Mpanu states, 'the international climate regime is about more than just strategies and plans, it's about people. We need to be able to give concrete effects to the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, and the round of Bonn is an opportunity to continue maintaining trust between us.'

The majority of LDCs have signed the Paris Agreement and many have begun the process of ratification of the Agreement, which Mr Mpanu-Mpanu states 'is both a testament to the LDCs and an example of our readiness to work with the global community in combating climate change.'

The LDC group continues to emphasise the importance of leadership by developed countries, and the facilitation of actions by all Parties to work towards achieving the historic goals adopted in Paris; 'while the LDCs have the will to act, we lack the capacity and resources to do the heavy lifting required to address climate change',  Mr Mpanu-Mpanu states. For the LDCs, taking much needed action on climate change relies on the securing of financial, technological and capacity-building support for on-the-ground action. This remains a key priority of LDC negotiators.
'The LDC group looks forward to engaging in the negotiations in Bonn, and is encouraged by the record number of countries who united in New York to sign the Paris Agreement last month. This demonstrates that there is political momentum globally to set to work constructing the further arrangements for the Paris Agreement that will bring the next phase of the global climate regime to life.'

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
DAR ES ALAAM , Tanzania (PAMACC News) – Africa is experiencing water crisis, with scientists saying there is strong evidence of decreased water flow and water quality in many countries.
Scientists, researchers and drivers of water policy have also warned that continued population and economic growth, combined with climate change, could result in serious water shortages in some parts of the continent by 2025.

These challenges are coming at a time many African countries are mapping pathways towards the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.

It is against this backdrop that the African Ministers attending the sixth edition of the Africa’s Minister’s Council on Water,AMCOW, have called for increase self-driven innovative approach to address the water challenges.

The AMCOW flagship water event, “the Africa Water Week “from the 18th to 22nd of July 2016 in Dar es Salam, Tanzania; the ministers agree provides the unique opportunity to pathways to address water challenges.

“We need new ideas and self driven approaches to addressing the issues of water in Africa,” noted  Gerson H Lwenge, Tazanian minister of water and irrigation, at the opening of the conference on Monday July 18,2016.

In a pre-conference statement AMCOW officials said there was a range of actions – besides investments into large inter-basin transfer schemes – that could be taken to improve the prospects for quality water supply and quality.

“The Africa Water Week accordingly, represents a political commitment at the highest level for creating platform to discuss and collectively seek solutions to Africa's water and sanitation challenges. It is organised by the African Minister's Council on Water (AMCOW) in collaboration with the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission alongside regional and international partners, “ the statement noted.

Speakers at the opening of the conference emphasized on the need to better address issues related to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals with emphases on using local approach adapted to the African reality.

“ The SDGs is all about using local initiatives by both the private sector and the government working hand in glove. Wter resources is vital in realizing these goals,” says H.E Mwai Kibaki former President of Kenya at the opening of the conference.

The biennial water conference hosted at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre (JNICC), Dar Es Salam by the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, represented by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation brought over 1000 participants from governments, regional institutions, international partners, the private sector, the scientific community, civil society and the media from all over the world.

The conference accordingly is in keeping with the decision of the AMCOW Governing Council
“to institutionalize the water management body as a way of building momentum on achieving the Africa Water Vision 2025”.

It equally represents AMCOW’s belief that effective and efficient management of water resources leads to the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation as well as makes a critical contribution to Africa’s progress towards sustainable growth and development, the officials said.

The Africa Water Week series accordingly began in Tunis, Tunisia in 2008. Since then, the conference has been held in Midrand, South Africa in 2009, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2010, Cairo, Egypt in 2012 and Dakar, Senegal in 2014 featuring an assemblage of international and regional organizations and the scientific community, as well as exhibitors from various sectors  engaged in the sustainable management of Africa’s water resources and delivery of safe water and improved sanitation.

Achieving the SDGs on Water Security and Sanitation

With the theme "achieving the SDGs on Water Security and Sanitation," the 6th Africa Water Week aspires to lay the building blocks for Africa to achieve the SDG six as well as other inter-linking SDGs connected with water resources management and improved sanitation service delivery.

It also represents the quest in the continent to place emphasis on matching commitments and plans with concrete actions with impact on the ground. It highlights Africa’s undaunted focus to achieving the Agenda 2063, the continent’s global strategy to optimize use of Africa’s resources for the overall benefit of all.

The four sub themes of the AWW-6 revolve round achieving universal and equitable access to water and sanitation for all, and ensuring sustainable water resources management and climate resilience. Others are strengthening productivewastewatermanagement and improved water quality improving policy, financing and monitoring.

Part of the desired outcome for the conference is the adoption of a roadmap for developing a comprehensive action plan for Africa aimed at translating high-level commitments including N'gor Declaration on Water Security and Sanitation into implementation at country, sub-regional and continental levels.

Established since 2002, the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) seeks to promote cooperation, security, social and economic development and poverty eradication among member states through the effective management of the continent’s water resources and provision of water.

As the Technical Committee for Water and Sanitation of the African Union, AMCOW contributes to Africa’s progress towards sustainable growth and development by providing political leadership in the continent's efforts at achieving effective and efficient management of water resources through the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation.

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