Wednesday, September 30, 2009

improving peripheral vision: world news in brief: Mau Forest


I want to focus your attention for a minute or two on an area known as the Mau Forest, in Kenya. The Mau forest is the largest forest in Kenya; it's rivers are the dependancy of over 10 million people. The rivers that come from this forest source eight wildlife reserves and feed into six lakes, one of which is Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria is one of the primary sources of water for the Nile. (facts gathered here). The Mau forest is currently the center of a rather large conflict; although it seems to have been skipped over in much of our recent media (I could only find approx 10 news articles on Google news specifically devoted to this topic: all came from BBC. Compare this to how many articles you'd find on...say..Rob P).

What's happened in the Mau forest is that "a quarter of its 400,000 hectares have been destroyed by farmers and loggers" (BBC). A quarter. You might think this seems like an insignificant number, but as it turns out, it is seriously damaging the country's eco-system. As stated on  BBC News: "Mau forest is Kenya's largest water tower - it stores rain during the wet seasons and pumps it out during the dry months." But what happens when your wet seasons aren't really that wet at all? You rely on your water tower...and what happens when someone's poked a giant hole in your water tower?

The past 3 years have seen a shortage of rain during the "wet" seasons. In April of 2009, which is usually a wet season, it hardly rained at all. Literally millions of cattle fell dead into their fields, and over 10 million people came face to face with starvation. Why? All due to the lack of water, which has been spurred on by the huge dent in the eco-system of the Mau forest.

The trouble is, the trend seems to be continuing. The rainy seasons are becoming less and less...rainy. And a forest that was once capable of providing a buffer for these types of situations has been and continues to be depleted. But it's just a forest, you might think. How much of a difference can it really make? According to Prof Wangari Maathai of the Green Belt Movement, it makes a big difference: "If you destroy the forests, the rivers will stop flowing and the rains will become irregular and the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation". That's a succession a lot of people just don't think about.

Animals are dying in droves either because of lack of water or poaching. Elephants are now being poached for meat; people are so desperate for food (their other food keeps dying). Entire herds of wild life are being forced to relocate. Pretty soon (and I do mean soon), it's going to start taking the lives of people, too.

If the 100million trees that need to be planted were somehow all planted tomorrow, it will still take decades to repair the damage done. The people of Kenya (and Tanzania, and Egypt, etc) are going to be feeling the effects of this for years to come, especially if action isn't taken.

I suppose I brought this up because I of how alarmed I was while looking at pictures of dead animals (which I've chosen not to post, you can find them on the BBC articles), and thinking about the people suffering because they didn't have any water. I was alarmed because I realize how easy it is for me to just forget about it; to fill up my brita every evening and my water glass 10 times a day and run my shower and my dishwasher and my taps and do my laundry...And realizing that it isn't just me. I live on a continent of wasters. I am a product of a spoiled culture; a culture that simply doesn't care as long as its own belly is full and its own thirst is quenched.

To be honest, I'm not sure where to go from here...I'm still working that part out in my own head. But maybe, just maybe we should stop caring so much about clean vehicles and technicolor lawns. That's probably a start.

There is so much more to this story, including some very complicated social and political factors. Hit up Google News and look up "Mau Forest" or "Kenya Drought" for more info

No comments: