The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) and its partners today voiced their strong opposition to the recent decision by the Kenyan cabinet to hive off 17,000 hectares of the Mau Forest for the settlement of squatters who have encroachment on the woodlands over the years.

The conservationists urged the government not to proceed with the plan to allow people to settle in the forest, saying the encroachment would contravene the constitution and other laws on environment and land use.

“Hiving off the 17,000 hectares of forest for resettlement or any other purpose other than forest conservation will violate, deny, infringe and threaten the right of millions of people in Kenya and East African region to a clean and healthy environment recognised and protected under Article 42 of the Kenyan constitution,” said Julius Kamau, EAWLS Executive Director.

He further stated that “the destruction of the Mau Forest is a violation of several multilateral environmental agreements to which Kenya is a party. These include the East Africa Community Treaty, African Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Migratory Species and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development, Judi Wakhungu, announced that the cabinet had reached a decision to set apart 17,000 hectares of the forest to settle people who had illegally encroached on the forest.

Mau Forest forms the largest closed‐canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya and is the single most important water catchment in Rift Valley and western region. It has witnessed extensive illegal and ill‐planned settlements, as well as extensive destruction.

Allowing people to set up settlements, as well as unauthorized encroachments have led to the destruction of approximately 25 per cent of the Mau Forests Complex over the past 15 years.

The incursions pose significant environmental and economic threats to the country and point to an apparent breakdown of law and order, a fact that could trigger conflicts, conservationists say.

Previous efforts by the government and its partners to conserve Mau Forest through the establishment of the Mau Task Force in 2009 and the subsequent setting up of the Interim Coordinating Secretariat to oversee the implementation of recommendations of the task force was a step in the right direction, but positive moves will be greatly eroded if the cabinet decision to allow settlements in the woodlands is not reversed, they add.

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