19 October 2011
Deforestation is one of the great challenges of our times. Scientists estimate about half of all the forests that once covered the Earth are gone. The United Nations Environment Programme tells us that 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed around the globe every year. At that rate a forest the size of Kenya would be cut in less than six years. A forest the size of Uganda – three…
This year is the UN International Year of Forests. It should remind us of the importance of forests in our lives.
Kenya faces one of the greatest rates of deforestation in Africa. In 1963, Kenya had forest cover of some 12 percent of the land. It has since been reduced to 1.2 percent. According to the Government, land degradation costs Kenya about 390 million dollars every year -- roughly 3 percent of gross domestic product.
It is these same forests that are so important to Kenya’s environment, economy, and particularly to the water supplies that sustain life. As you know, Kenyan forests are largely divided between five highland water towers which store rain during the wet seasons and release it during the dry. The rivers that flow from these forests are drying up. This, in turn, is affecting crops, livestock, hydroelectric production and even tourism as wildlife movements change in response to water availability.
Luckily there is good news in this story. Although continued forest loss was reported in Africa - net loss has slowed these last 20 years. The areas of planted forests are increasing and it is tree planting through partnerships between government, businesses, civic organizations, and communities that is helping turn the tide on deforestation, not just in Kenya but around the world. This is a great testament to the spirit and vision of the late Professor Wangari Maathai, who we will all miss greatly. As some of you may know, the Aga Khan Development Network shares this vision, having planted over 120 million trees in Asia and Africa over the past 25 years.
Launching this Lions Clubs International and Aga Khan Development Network initiative, in Nairobi City Park today, holds special significance. City Park was the first park ever to be planned and designed for the City of Nairobi. It is a unique piece of forest in its own right and home to over 700 species of fauna and flora, one of the only intact pieces of forest left within the city limits. Each time I visit the park I am impressed by the sheer beauty and diversity here.
To many, including myself, City Park is an important natural asset in a fast growing city. For those who remember the Park at its best, it is a source of fond memories of family picnics, music around the bandstand, and even disorientation in the Maze. Much gratitude is owed to the National Museums of Kenya, Nature Kenya and Friends of City Park, and a few other hardworking individuals for ensuring its gazettement and future protection. I would like to thank President Tam of Lions Clubs International, Lions of Kenya including Board Appointee Mr. Manoj Shah and Lions District Governor Mr. Murtaza Dungarwalla -- as well as Executive Director of Lions Clubs International Mr Peter Lynch and his team -- and Lion Kirit Patel and the tree planting committee for joining AKDN to plant 1.5 million trees in Kenya over the next year.
Further thanks is due to IPS/ Frigoken, Serena Hotels/TPS, Aga Khan High School and Academies, Nation Media Group and Aga Khan Foundation/Coastal Rural Support Programme -- for your past and continuing efforts to restore Kenyan forests.
Perhaps most of all we should all commend and thank the government of Kenya for its pledge in 2010 to increase forest cover to 10 percent by the year 2030.
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