By Dr. Paula Kahumbu

During the last two years Kenya declared a national disaster over the drought. This permitted the emergency appeal for food aid to key counties. Water rationing affected health, agricultural production and energy which in turn meant power rationing and therefore a depression in industrial operations. We saw the invasion of private farms and parks by starving armed pastoralists with hundreds of thousands of skeletal stock in desperate search for pasture. Farmers tried to protect their grass reserves and dozens of people were killed, livestock stolen, wildlife killed, homes and other properties scorched. Illegal activities in our national forests led to setting of fires that raged in the Aberdares Mountain destroying hundreds of acres of forest and fragile montane grasslands. Communities clashed violently in deadly conflicts over the dwindling pastures and water sources – so irate that they shot police officers and even took aim at the helicopter carrying the chief of police. Hundreds of cattle were shot dead and the human suffering and economic cost of this catastrophe had yet to be calculated.

The drought gave way to another disaster, devastating nation-wide floods.

Once it started raining in March dams quickly filled as water could not percolate due to lack of vegetation. It sheeted down to streams creating massive gulleys taking all the topsoil and seeds. These rivulets quickly grew to raging rivers that burst their banks and flooded downstream low lying areas – causing dozens of deaths, injury and displacement of over 200,000 people. The loss of life, property and crops is immediate. Now we will suffer a massive impact on food production. Disease will be their next crisis – dirty water brings cholera and other contamination. Also to be expected is an impact on coastal fisheries which will collapse under the weight of silt being dumped into the oceans. Without adequate protein the growth of our children will be stunted. One drought, one flood will affect millions of Kenyans for decades.

My heart breaks for my beloved Kenya. We are one of the most educated countries in Africa but we behave as if we are ignorant. Why is our country lurching from environmental disaster to environmental disaster? It’s like we are addicted to abuse.

Because we are abusing our environment – we think we can just take what we want and we take no responsibility when we break the natural defense systems. We have failed to value forests, woodlands and Savanna’s as natural shock absorbers against the onslaught of climate change.

Read the full open letter here:

Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO WildlifeDirect