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Why Mara River is on its deathbed

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By GATU WA MBARIA
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“The Mara River will be dead in three years.”

This was the chilling conclusion made by Mr George Natembeya, the Narok County Commissioner, when we spoke to him.

The once mighty river, known worldwide as the haven of ferocious crocodiles that timed and drowned wildebeest as they crossed, is now a shadow of its former glory.

At some spots, the dry river bed is what remains as evidence of human damage to the Mara ecosystem. The worst, we were told, is yet to come.

When the Nation toured the entire expanse of the Mara, new images and sights of wildebeest trotting along the dry river bed, where their ancestors had previously been mauled by giant crocodiles, became the first signs that the spectacular scenes — vividly captured by National Geographic and other wildlife channels — of wildebeests jumping in to the deep swollen river were nothing but history.

Our mission was to find out why the drying up of this internationally-important water body seems almost assured.

From the extensive tour, interviews with many people and reference to documents, there are no doubts that sooner, rather than later, the chicken might finally come home to roost.

At the moment — the question is no longer whether — but how long that will take.

Although some gave a window of between five and 10 years, everyone was clear that the Mara River is dying: the biggest blow to Kenya’s tourism sector and a doom to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

Accompanied by crew from NTV, we toured some of the tributaries that empty into the Mara River and saw the visible effects of over-concentration of tourist facilities in the ecosystem.

But we never anticipated what we saw at Kiptunga Swamp, which is the source of the Mara River.

Joseph Kitkai, one of the herders we met there, informed us that some 20 years ago, anyone venturing into the swamp, animals included, “would be swallowed” into the ground.

“We lost 10 cows here,” he said indicating that the swamp had a sinkhole.

But this is no more; animals can now graze inside the swamp while a private company, Timsales Ltd, was licensed by the Kenya Forest Service to be planting and harvesting exotic, water-guzzling tree species close by.

Apparently, the upper zone of the Mara River has minimal water extraction activities but in the middle and lower zones, there is direct collection by households, urban centres and irrigation schemes.

Reports also show that the Nyangores River provides water to Tenwek hospital, Silibwet and Bomet Town.

Already, the loss of volumes along the river has affected the globally renown wildebeest migration which was declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2006.

This is likely to severely cut the cumulated earnings at the Mara by the hotels which were estimated at Sh14.1 billion while gate collections stood at Sh867 million in 2011 — according to Lake Basin Commission.

And that is not all, the survival of hundreds of thousands of pastoralists, farmers and other people who rely on the river and its tributary will be jeopardised as the pressure for land and water sparks ethnic tensions.

When we visited the Mara, members of the Maasai and Kalenjin communities had clashed over land — which means that the loss of Mara River is now a national security issue.

Most of our respondents attributed the loss of volumes to over-abstraction by a big number of users.

They pointed to the large-scale flower farming by companies such as Mara Peas as well as maize and sorghum farming by Shimo Ltd, which get water from Nyangores and Amala tributaries of the Mara.

Indeed, according to a study published by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in 2011, the total water demand in the basin was estimated at 24 million cubic meters per year with large-scale irrigation accounting for 51 percent, human domestic demand 20 percent and livestock 17 percent.

Others blamed the alleged lacklustre management of the reserve by the Narok County Government, which is yet to come up with a management plan for the reserve and outlying ecosystem.

Local and national political leaderships were blamed for “marked indifference” and for failing to comprehensively address what is now termed as the Mau conundrum.

Top government officials are accused of on-and-off, not-here-nor-there, timid attempts at saving the Mau that are almost primed to be thwarted by politicians from the Kalenjin community who are always quick to convert the Mau issue into a political minefield.

But Francis ole Nkaku, formerly with the Water Towers Agency, disagrees: “If the move to reclaim riparian reserves in Nairobi is anything to go by, the government looks serious this time around about protecting the Mau.”

During our expansive tour, it was clear that Kenya is dealing with a mightily complex scenario that needs to be handled with the methodical sensitivity of a surgeon at the operating table.

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Everyone — invaders, politicians, farmers, pastoralists, environmental activists, community elite — appear justified to do whatever they have been up to and unless one (journalists included) engages in an elaborate fact-finding exercise, they are likely to be confused by the maze of claims and counter-claims.

Further, Kenya’s inability to deal conclusively with the destruction of the Mau has geopolitical implications.

As a transboundary resource, the Mara is shared between Kenya and Tanzania’s most important wildlife area, the Serengeti.

Kenya knows that soon, Tanzania will complain about the Mara.

“We usually hold ad hoc meetings with our Tanzanian counterparts and we expect them to complain if the destruction of the source of the Mara River goes on,” Mr Natembeya said.

The Mara is a shared water resource that flows though Lake Natron and Musoma area of Tanzania before emptying into Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile.

Most significantly, the destruction of the Mau has greatly affected the ‘silent’ users of the Mara and Serengeti.

These include the millions of wildebeest and zebras that make the annual epic journey between Serengeti (where they breed in the Ntutu area) to the Maasai Mara from July to October before going back.

For some reason, the vast herds were late in coming to the Mara this year and when they did, fewer than usual came only to cross through a near-empty river.

Besides, there are many other species that use the two wildlife areas — lions, elephants, Topi, giraffes, elands, leopards, cheetahs, gazelles, a diversity of birds, snakes and other reptiles as well as species that inhabit the river.

During the tour, it became apparent too that the security and ecological situations being experienced now — as evidenced by severe loss of water along the Mara — is the culmination of intricately interwoven historical, political, negative changes in the culture of forest dwellers, corruption, misuse of power and greed that were left to degenerate over the last 40 years.

The national government is losing the plot by refusing to address how these issues might end up derailing its effort to halt the senseless destruction of the 400,000-acre Mau Complex, and especially the Maasai Mau Forest.

There were respondents who saw what is happening to the Mara River in terms of climate change.

They told the Nation that the changing climate has resulted to a rise in, and worsening of, extreme weather events such as droughts and flooding.

Lately, much of Kenya, Narok included, has been experiencing a minor drought after every two years and a major one each decade.

Usually, the droughts hit hard, leaving massive deaths of livestock and wildlife in their wake.

“The destruction of the Mau has exacerbated the vulnerability of the Mara ecosystem to droughts,” Violet Matiru, a Nairobi-based Ecologist and former Kenya Wildlife Service staff member, asserted.

Indeed, the Lake Basin Commission’s report says that pastoralists based in the Mara River Basin lost 35 percent of their livestock due to drought.

Matiru, who is behind a community initiative to protect the indigenous section of Thogoto Forest in Kiambu County, says that the destruction of the Mau has severely disrupted the natural water cycle from which the Mara River and its tributaries owe their survival.

She explained that indigenous forests have many layers — top canopy, undergrowth and fallen leaves — which enable them to retain water whenever it rains.

“An indigenous forest acts as a sponge that absorbs and releases water gradually.” Matiru further explains that the sun ‘grabs’ water from a forest through the processes of transpiration and evaporation and that forests help to retain moisture in the air.

“When moisture-laden winds flow over areas with forests, it is easy for clouds to be formed and for such areas to experience frequent rains.

“But when we destroy a forest, rain drops hit the ground very hard, the water does not sink into the ground; rather it flows away as runoff causing floods and therefore does not help to recharge the water table. Consequently, the streams and rivers that used to get water from the water table end up with little or no water.” Matiru’s assertion corrects Paul Sang, a former Health minister who publicly claimed forests have nothing to do with the rain as it comes from the sky.

While it is not clear whether Sang was serious or said this in jest, the Mau issue is so serious that it now threatens national security.

Indeed, during our tour, we were chillingly informed by some members of the Maasai community that should the government fail to conclusively deal with the issues pertaining to the invasion of Maasai Mau Forest, then morans would do so under their own terms and in ways that will lead to what someone called “a massacre”.

Such clashes have recurred over the last eight years — although the border dispute between the two communities goes back to the colonial period.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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