Kenya boasts five major water towers spread throughout the country: the Mau Water Complex, Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon and the Cherangani Hills water towers.
These ecosystems have been crucial to Kenya’s development.
For instance, the agricultural sector, which is one of the largest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product and employs a majority of Kenyans, is heavily reliant on these water towers.
Additionally, the tourism and energy sectors also depend on them.
However, the prolonged drought and famine in some parts of the country highlight the need to protect the environment.
While large water catchment areas are a priority, smaller yet crucial catchment areas are disappearing due to uncontrolled human activities.
The famine affected even the highlands, where the five major water towers are located, and there has been a significant reduction in water levels in river Chania, which flows from the Aberdares forest and Lake Kamnarok in Kerio Valley.
These are clear indications that climate change is heavily impacting Kenya, and immediate action is necessary.
Small water catchment areas and riparian lands across the country are disappearing rapidly due to unchecked human activities.
In the North Rift region, for instance, water catchment areas and riparian lands have been turned into eucalyptus plantations, driven by the demand for timber.
Consequently, water flow has reduced significantly, and some rivers have completely dried up, spelling doom for thousands of inhabitants.
Although Kenya has policies in place to protect the environment, their enforcement remains a significant challenge.
Some of these policies include the Water Act of 2016, which prohibits the occupation, development and encroachment of riparian lands.
There is also the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016, which prohibits development within 30 metres of forest reserve.
Thirdly, there is the Physical Planning Act of 2019, which prohibits development within 30 metres of a water body.
To preserve our ecosystems, there is a need for deliberate action, and the government must work with communities, at the grassroots level and especially farmers, to achieve this. Sustainable agricultural practices cannot be achieved solely within the confines of boardrooms or well-furnished offices.
High-level reforms alone are insufficient in addressing the underlying causes of timber-driven concessions and unsustainable farming techniques.
To truly foster effective changes, we must allocate more funding towards operationalising agricultural extension services and shaping our agricultural techniques.
To effectively integrate and mobilise local communities in conservation efforts, it is essential to adopt a multidimensional approach that involves collaboration by the ministries of Environment, Energy, Tourism and Agriculture. This will ensure the implementation of people-centric approaches and policies.
Protection of smaller water catchment areas and riparian lands is crucial for the livelihoods of the majority of Kenyan households.
As the rainy season begins, planting the right species of trees in water catchment areas and riparian lands cannot be emphasized enough.
Trees play a critical role in preventing soil erosion and maintaining biodiversity.
County governments and the national government must work together to protect these vital ecosystems for future generations.
Mr Kosgei is an award-winning social entrepreneur and Youth, Environment and Education advocate.