Deforestation threatens rift valley lakes
Monday, July 17, 2000
By Tervil Okoko
Nairobi, Kenya (PANA)
The great Eastern Rift Valley lakes are drying up slowly but surely as indiscriminate destruction of trees continue unabated along its major escarpment areas, a research carried out by Kenya's Egerton University in Njoro, about 118 miles west of Nairobi, indicates.
The research, conducted by the university's department of Natural Resources and the Kenya Wildlife Services and submitted to the Forest Action Network early July, says that major lakes likely to be adversely affected by the deforestation include Nakuru, Bogoria, Naivasha and Baringo in Kenya, Natron, Manyara, Eyasi and Balangida in Tanzania.
It adds that a quarter or more of Lake Victoria waters are expected to ebb in the wake of changing conditions in the larger Mau forest and Loita hills of Kenya and Mount Meru in northern Tanzania.
As a result of the deforestation, the average annual rainfall of 1,000 millimetres to 1,800 millimetres has continued to dwindle as the temperature of the areas within the valley, which ranges between 16 degrees and 24 degrees centigrade, is going up.
The study notes that because the western side of the escarpment has been left almost intact, the bank of River Sondu, which drains into Lake Victoria, continue to burst, a phenomenon ecological experts blame on the shift of underground waters that have in the past been simmering on the mountainous peaks of Mau east escarpment and Mount Meru.
It shows that the natural forests along the escarpments have been robbed of high value tree species including the Primus Africana, Podocarpus latifolius, Juniperus procera, Arundinaria alpina (bamboo), Hagena abyssinia and Olea laitifolia.
The study notes that there is evidence of progressive reduction of forest cover such that in some regions, even the protective catchment forest has been destroyed to pave way for human settlement.
Before the onslaught on the forest, Mau escarpment represented the largest remaining contiguous block of montane indigenous forest in East Africa.
The forest lies between 2,000 metres and 2,600 metres above the sea level on the western slopes of the Mau escarpment.
Forest Action Network, which has been campaigning against the deforestation in the forested areas of the Rift valley escarpments, also notes that the forests regulates the streams' flow, thus helping to control flooding and maintaining the water table in dry spells.
These forests are important catchment areas and drains into lakes dotting the Great Rift Valley and also Lake Victoria, it observes.
According to the Egerton University study, one of the early warnings of this disaster is the frequent disturbance of water levels in Lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, Natron and Bogoria, especially during the dry spell.
The study further warns that if the deforestation on the escarpment is not stopped, then worse environmental disasters might occur.
It points out the possible drying up of these lakes due to siltation and a shift in the water table.
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