Burning Down The House To Save the Trees

Mostly this is a story about overpopulation in Kenya, where average family size remains very high: nearly 5 children/woman. One local outcome, getting renewed media attention because of a political crisis (see below), is one of landless poor taking over forest preserves, clearing trees, and thereby accelerating the destruction of an economically important lake. Also stirring the pot in this crisis: disagreements over historic land titles, and extended drought. See this link for a proper context. The goverment's motive in violently driving out the "forest squatters" is partly one of maintaining the region's tourist economy which is heavily dependant upon riparian wildlife viewing around Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Clearing the forest lowers water levels, jeopardizing tourism and wildife survival. As hard as it is to judge from oceans away, one thing is clear: media coverage gives insufficient insight into the tradeoffs, the stakeholders, and the natural capital engaged. No wonder that governments wait until there is a crisis to ask if help is needed.

Crisis News

4,000 homeless as Kenyan police burn down forest squats
Police razed more than 300 grass-thatched huts in the Eburru forest near the town of Naivasha in the central Rift Valley, 90 kilometres north-west of the capital late on Thursday, leaving nothing but smouldering ruins in a latest bid to rid the area of squatters.

The authorities say the forest dwellers are an environmental danger. "We are ready to die here and we won't shift unless we are shown alternative land where we can settle," he said, complaining that he and his colleagues in the three makeshift villages targeted had been left penniless by the destruction.

Naivasha District Officer Kaunda Maikara told reporters at the scene that the authorities had been forced to act because the squatters were defying legal government orders to vacate the 12,000-acre forest considered a key water catchment basin for the region. Last month, a court ordered the government to halt such evictions after as many as 50,000 people were violently thrown out another forest further south, drawing howls of complaints from the human rights groups.

Earlier this month, Kenyan Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai implicitly called for the eviction of tens of thousands of squatters from the country's forests when she blamed the current drought disaster threatening millions with famine on illegal logging and destruction and degradation of trees.

For further details on the Lake Naivasha history and ongoing local efforts with resource management planning, see this site.

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