Delays in resettling hundreds of people evicted from the Mau Forest Complex in Kenya’s Rift Valley region have forced the displaced to endure harsh camp conditions without proper health and sanitation facilities, sources said.
“I used to comfortably live in a three-bedroom house before I was evicted; now I share a small tent with my large family. I worked hard on my 2ha piece of land and made sure my family was well-fed and clothed,” Joseph Tuwei told IRIN at Keringet camp in Molo District.
Tuwei, 50, said he no longer had money for food or his children’s school fees. “I wish the government had first bought us land before evicting us, I wonder what comes first - the people or the forest,” he added.
The evictions are aimed at helping reclaim the degraded complex, which is Kenya's largest water catchment area. So far, at least 24,000ha of the forest’s 400,000ha has been reclaimed, with 2,900 families affected, said the Mau Forest Restoration Interim Coordinating Secretariat chairman, Noor Hassan Noor.
The complex has lost at least 107,000ha of forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, logging and charcoal burning, as well as increased agriculture, in the past 20 years.
The resettlement of the families on alternative land is the mandate of the Ministry of Land. However, there have been challenges. “We lack support from the community leaders who refuse to relay facts on how they ended up encroaching on the forest so that we can determine who is eligible for [land] compensation,” Noor said.
While there is a consensus that the continued destruction of the Mau complex should stop, there are divisions over the eviction of those said to be illegally settled, with leaders insisting on full compensation.
The resettlement of the evictees has also been delayed by a slow process of verification of those holding genuine land deeds.
Much of the area that was lost in the Mau was converted into settlements after the government began allocating the forest land in 1997. Large plots were given to individuals in what was seen as a political bid to win votes during the general elections that year. The current government has said all land allocations in the late 1990s are illegal and wants to evict the occupants.
|I hate the memories of a time when I had my own land, when I used to sow and harvest, when I milked my five cows and made money from selling the milk|
At Keringet, 70-year-old Grace Chepkoech told stories to a group of children in the camp. “This is my way of keeping stressing thoughts [away],” she said. “I hate the memories of a time when I had my own land, when I used to sow and harvest, when I milked my five cows and made money from selling the milk.”
Chepkoech’s six children engage in casual jobs to support her and her husband, Kipyegon Keter, 80, who is sick and needs costly healthcare. “He is always in pain and it can take him up to three days before he relieves his bladder. But we have no money for his treatment,” said Chepkoech. “He has also gone deaf; I think he is still in shock.”
Adequate nutrition and care for the HIV-positive is also hard to access. “This baldeg [a mixture of boiled maize and beans] is all I have for my children,” said Norah Ngeno.
At Tirigoi camp, sanitation is a problem with open holes used for latrines. “It is embarrassing during the day,” said John Seregot, camp chairman. The lack of privacy is especially an issue for women.
“For us men, we either go deep into the bushes or wait until the night to visit the ‘washrooms’,” said Seregot.
The next phase of the Mau Forest reclamation exercise will involve moving some 7,000 families with title deeds from part of the forest, according to Noor. In total, some 50,000 people are expected to be moved out of the forest.
According to experts, the continued destruction of the complex will lead to a water crisis that could extend beyond the country's borders.
Also see: KENYA: What is behind the Mau controversy?