The state of the environment in the Counties of the former Western Province-Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga and the neighbouring Trans Nzoia County is in a sorry state, in neglect, disrepair, decay, degradation, abuse, and abandonment.
Article 69 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 states that the state shall ensure sustainable exploitation, utilization, management and conservation of the environment. That it should work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least ten percent of the land area of Kenya and encourage public participation in environmental management, protection and conservation.
The environmental question straddles both the terrain of being both a national government and County government’s functions. Under number 22 of the 4th schedule, the national government is obligated to ensure the protection of the environment with a view to establishing a durable and sustainable system of development. County governments under the same 4th schedule are to undertake implementation of specific national government policies on environmental conservation.
The dry spell in the months of January and February of every year in Western Kenya brings into focus how the environment in the region continues getting more fragile with each passing year as tension between human settlement and attendant agricultural and other activities and environmental conservation play out. It is during this period that the truth of the centrality of conserving our water towers, sources of water, the rivers, waterways and springs becomes a life and death question that we cannot wish away.
That water is one of the most important components of the environment cannot be gainsaid and without it, most life forms cannot survive. Are we as a region taking all the most appropriate measures to conserve our water sources or we are abusing them, depleting them, contributing to their disappearance. Are we encroaching on water sources from all perspective and if so, how do we expect ourselves and the next generation to live and prosper without secure water sources, natural water-flows in rivers, springs.
Kenya passed the Environmental Management and Coordination Act in 2000 and whose object is to provide for the establishment of an appropriate legal and intuitional framework for the management of the environment. The Act defines the environment to include the physical factors of the surroundings of human beings including land, water, atmosphere, climate, sound, odour, taste the biological factors of animals and plants and the social factors of aesthetics and includes both the natural and the built environment.
The challenge is whether the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) set up by the NEMA Act to exercise general supervision and coordination over matters relating to the environment and to be the principal instrument of government in the implementation of policies relating to the environmental issues has delivered on its mandate. Is the region’s environment better off or worse off nearly 20 years since the establishment of NEMA? The reality is that the environment is too important, too crucial for our survival, for us to just wash off of our hands and say it’s the business of NEMA. We must all of us, you and me stand up to be counted and promote pro-active actions that conserve our environment starting from making sacrosanct our water sources, rivers.
The tragedy and irony is that we are witnessing an environmental disaster in our region in the making and we must stop pretending the disaster is not going on and take emergency measures to salvage our environment starting now and not tomorrow. County Governments, elected leaders must lead in the agenda, programmes, conversations for environmental conservation.