MISSUE NO. 3616 

April 19 - 24, 2013


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Christian Lambrechts helps in conserving highlands environment

Kenya is endowed with several beautiful landscapes
that should not be lost to the degradation


NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- He has two degrees in civil engineering and International Law but his passion for environmental conservation overrides his specialized field of training.

He has never worked as a forester or as botanist either but has a lot of interest in environmental conservation that spans many years.

Meet Christian Lambrechts, a former employee with UN Environmental Program (UNEP) currently the Executive Director of Rhino Ark Charitable Trust.

Lambrechts passion largely shows that, individuals in their own rights can make changes that in the end results into huge impact that could save the coming generation.

Working at the UNEP in Nairobi as a Policy and Program Officer at the Division of Early Warning and Assessment, Lambrecht’s love for camping and talking to the local people whenever he goes is deemed to have contributed immensely to the environmental conservation in recent times.

“I was camping near the foot of Mount Kenya forest in 1995 at Gatamayu – South of the Abardares Fisheries Camp when I overheard lots of power saw making noise in the middle of the night,” he revealed.

This noise in the wee hours of the night is today remembered as the awakening call for environmental conservation of the water towers in the country.

The following morning Lambrechts asked the camp Manager David Ndeti what was happening near his camp and the Manager told him that they were loggers who are logging at night to escape arrest from the government officials.

“Ndeti too appeared disturbed by the night operations that he said had started way back in 1988,” Lambrechts added.

This incident touched Lambrechts forcing him to share this information with some of his friends and he started a move to help save the forest from depletion.

Lambrechts paid for a plane and overflew the area for 56 hours with conservationist Mr. Bongo Woodley trying to unearth the root cause and to what level the damage has reached.

After conducting his survey with his moving map – GIS and upon releasing his report to the government and stakeholder, the forest was gazetted as a national reserve in July 2000.

“I spent on 18,000 U.S. dollars to help change the status of Mount Kenya forest,” Lambrechts said during an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Nairobi on Friday.

He applied the same idea for Mount Kilimanjaro and Abardares Forest. However his report on Abardares took long to implement due to unwillingness with certain individuals within the government.

Then come the Mau excision that was undertaken by the government. Here too Lambrechts thought something needed to be done to help conserve the giant water tower of Kenya.

“I flew over Mau forest the same weekend the government excised the parcels of land in February 2001 to capture the status and share out the findings with the stakeholders,” he added.

Lambrechts called a press conference that was attended by officials from the Ministries of Lands, Tourism and Environment where he revealed his findings.

“This process never made any changes as there was neither serious intervention nor willingness to rescind the decision and also stop further excision of the water tower,” he revealed.

In 2008 the Director General of UNEP Achim Steiner reintroduced the topic amongst the government cycles given that there was a change is government with the coming to power of the NARC government.

“Steiner arranged a meeting with the then Minister for Environment the late John Michuki where he was shown the activities that were going on the Mau, Nairobi River and Marmanet forests,” he noted.

Michuki simply asked for a briefing note and the conservation efforts of the two forests started in earnest.

A major meeting that was convened by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and attended by policy makers, environmental experts and politicians bordering the Mau forest followed immediately.

Upon listening to the presentations and seeing the pictures, Odinga directed that they fly on top of Mau forest to see firsthand what they have seen.

“The moving maps sold the idea and helped fixed the long awaited Mau conservation efforts,” Lambrechts observed.

The 850 report that was prepared by thereafter was later on adopted by parliament, the Cabinet and is being implemented in phases to date. In his report after seeing the damage, Odinga asked Lambrechts to be part of the task force, a move that surprised Steiner.

“Steiner was surprised by the move because UNEP had pursued the matter for many years without success and was now seeing a complete change of heart by the government,” he said.

Lambrechts noted that the exercise started but not without drama as those who had acquired the land illegally put up a defense through court cases and the media.

Besides Abardares, Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro and Mau, Lambrechts too help survey Kisia hills, Maasai Mau and Kyulu hills ecosystem.

“Some efforts were a success while others were not because all depends on the commitment of the government towards conservation efforts,” he added.

But Lambrechts is full of praise for the former Tanzanian Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and the former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Dr. Richard Leakey, terming them as champions of conservation in the region.

He said that Kenya is endowed with several beautiful landscapes that should not be lost to the degradation.

“We are dependent on environment, our life is conditioned by weather and climate and we must not forget this direct contact with the environment,” he warned.

Lambrechts called on Kenyans to travel and take pictures to be able to know the beauty of the country to enable them make a difference at individual level.

Lambrechts is a strong believer of doing things right with the good attitude at the right moment and not being a hero for the sake of heroism. He noted that lots more can be done with little money and not necessarily large sums of donor funding.

“Advocacy is important and the people need to remind the government on matters of conservation whenever they see things going bad,” he added.

Despite his efforts in environmental conservation that led to the formation of the Kenya Water Tower Agency, Lambrechts resigned from UNEP in June 2012 to take up appointment as the Executive Director of Rhino Ark Charitable Trust even though he had a permanent contract till his retirement.

In total the agency will look into the 18 water towers, five major towers and 13 small water towers that traverse the whole country.

Lambrechts who will continue serving the Mau course as the Technical Advisor revealed that the forest cover is in a position to earning Kenya shillings 110 billion from investments if used well.

During his stint at UNEP Lambrechts represented the UN body at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings; preparing papers on emerging issues in Antarctica; preparing the UN Secretary-General report on the Question of Antarctica; assessment of the state of the world cryosphere; application of assessment methodologies at local level and monitoring of East African forest ecosystems.

He was also responsible for forest fires, refugee and the environment; Antarctica and the Arctic; Middle East Peace Process.

He did his Bachelor degree at Universite Catholique de Louvain- la-Neuve (Belgium) in 1986 and his Masters Degree at Katholieke Universiteit van Leuven (Belgium), in 1989.   

He further did his post graduate degree in international law at Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden (Netherlands) in 1990.

Besides working for UNEP Lambrechts is also a legal adviser to the Belgian Navy on issues pertaining to the protection of the marine environment.

He has drafted guidelines and training manual for the implementation of the 1973/78 Marpol Convention. Lambrechts who is a Belgian national is married with two children


Kenya water official promises to
raise forest cover to 10 per cent

NAIROBI (Xinhua)-- The Chairman of Kenya Water Towers Agency, Isaac Kalua has promised to continue conserving the country’s forests by planting over 6 billion trees in order raise the forest cover that currently stands at less than 10 percent.

Kalua, who was recently appointed to head the agency and who through his Green Africa Foundation has spearheaded the planting of over 5 million trees, has been tasked with coordinating and overseeing the restoration of the water towers in Kenya for the next 3 years in order to arrest increasing deforestation.

Also on his to do list are the protection, resource mobilization, and community livelihood support and ecosystem monitoring of all the 18 water towers whose forests contribute about 3.6 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product.

“With such figures in mind, it should be clear to everyone that the battle to conserve our forests is essential because the country’s entire main economic sectors namely agriculture, tourism and energy depend extensively on the environment,” Kalua told Xinhua on Friday.

Kenya has 18 water towers with the five key ones namely Mount Kenya, the Aberdare Range, the Mau Forest Complex, Mount Elgon and the Cherangani Hills, being the main water catchments for nearly all of the country’s main rivers.

“In 2010, the cumulative negative effect of deforestation on the economy through reduction in regulating services was an estimated 4.3 billion dollars per year, which is more than four times the cash revenue of deforestation, whereas decreased river flows in the dry season the same year reduced water supply to irrigation agriculture at a cost of 1.8 billion dollars to the sector,” says Kalua.

He says the deforestation on the water towers has impacted an estimated 30,000 hectares leading to a reduction in water availability of 62 cubic meters per year whereas the reduction in river flows reduced hydropower generation by about 100,000 dollars, which had a resultant effect on the rest of the economy through power shortages.     

Increased wet-season flows led to erosion and sedimentation that resulted in a loss of productive soil resources, which in turn increased nutrient content in fresh water systems, causing siltation and increase in turbidity of water supplies.

This reduction in water quality reduced inland fish catch by one million dollars and increased the cost of water treatment for clean use by 2.3 million dollars in 2010, while incidences of malaria as a result of deforestation cost Kenya 2.8 million dollars in the form of health costs to the government as well as resulting into loss of labor productivity.

The agency was gazette in April 2012 with a view to expanding efforts and ensuring harmonized, efficient and effective management of all water towers and has, in conjunction with partners possessed more than 21,000 hectares of Mau forest land and rehabilitated over 10,000 hectares over the past one-and-a- half years.   

Kalua was selected as head of the organization owing to his background as an environmentalist and possessing the knowledge and experience in matters relating to good governance and management of public resources.

As the CEO of the 35th World Cross Country Championships which Kenya hosted in 2007 in the port city of Mombasa, Kalua’s foundation provided the organizers of the event with 500,000 trees after calculating that the carbon dioxide emissions at the championships that would be incurred through air flights would total 2.9 million tons.

“To offset six tonnes of carbon dioxide, one hectare of trees is needed with a total population of 1,000 trees per hectare annually. Thus 478,694 trees were needed to counter the carbon dioxide as a result of the event,” Kalua told Xinhua.  

“Green Africa’s commitment of half a million trees coupled with United Nations Environmental Program’s (UNEP) 50,000 trees offered the safest cross country from environmental contamination.”

During the previous edition in Fukuoka, Japan, while attending the games to understudy organizational aspects, Kalua registered his displeasure with the organizers that wooden poles, which suggested that trees had been cut down, were being used as pegs to mark the running course.

“And for the first time and with the approval of the IAAF, plastic poles with pins were used during the Mombasa event and have been used in subsequent championships instead of wooden posts. “

He said the pins facilitate ease with which the poles would be fixed to the ground and thereby minimizing any adverse effects on flora and fauna.

Last May, Kalua hosted the then President Mwai Kibaki; who has twice recognized him due to his concerted efforts in environmental conservation,  in his home in Kitui County of eastern Kenya during the launch of the national tree planting season.   

Early this year, the Japanese government through its Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP) granted his organization 96,000 dollars to complete a water project that will benefit over 8,000 people in arid eastern Kenya.  

Kalua says that preventing further destruction of Kenya’s forests and wetlands is one of the most elegant and cost-effective ways to combat climate change, create jobs and wealth, and ensure water and food security.


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