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UN experts urge Kenya to respect in-
digenous rights in climate change project

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Three United Nations independent experts on Monday called on the Kenyan government to respect the rights of indigenous Sengwer peoples while implementing a climate change project in northwestern Kenya.

The experts expressed concerns about recent reports that indigenous Sengwer peoples have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their homes as a result of the implementation of the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation project, an EU-funded water management project.

John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, called on the Kenyan authorities to urgently halt the evictions of the Sengwer community and undertake impartial investigations of these attacks.

“Furthermore, we urge the European Union to suspend funding for the project until measures have been taken to uphold international standards on indigenous peoples’ rights,” experts said.

The Sengwer indigenous people whose population is estimated at 33,000 inhabit forests straddling Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans Nzoia counties in northwestern Kenya.

For centuries, the Sengwer community has derived its livelihood from the forest ecosystem while protecting it from both man-made and natural calamities.

The Ministry of Environment in partnership with EU has since 2016 implemented a climate resilience project on the foothills of Cherangany water tower.

The project roots for active involvement of indigenous communities in restoration of one of the five major water towers in the country.

“The Sengwer are facing repeated attacks and forced evictions by agents of the Kenya Forest Service, which is an implementing agency in the project financed by the European Union,” the experts said.

Over 100 armed Forest Service guards entered the traditional lands of the Sengwer in the Embobut Forest on Dec 25 last year, firing gunshots, burning at least 15 homes and killing their livestock.

On Jan. 9, one of the Sengwer leaders, was shot at by Forest Service Service guards but while he managed to escape unhurt, his house was burnt down and his property destroyed.

The experts called on Kenya and the EU to ensure that the human rights of the Sengwer peoples are respected, noting that consultations have not been held with the Sengwer to seek their free, prior and informed consent.

“We are concerned that the project is being undertaken without a human rights impact assessment,” the experts said.



UN agencies step up efforts against environmental health risks

GENEVA (Xinhua) -- UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed a new, wide-ranging collaboration on Wednesday to accelerate action to curb environmental health risks that cause an estimated 12.6 million deaths a year.

The two UN agencies inked a deal in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday to step up joint actions to combat air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance, as well as improve coordination on waste and chemicals management, water quality, and food and nutrition issues.

It represents the most significant formal agreement on joint action across the spectrum of environment and health issues in over 15 years. The two agencies will develop a joint work program and hold an annual high-level meeting to evaluate progress and make recommendations for continued collaboration.

The new collaboration creates a more systematic framework for joint research, development of tools and guidance, capacity building, monitoring of UN Sustainable Development Goals, global and regional partnerships, and support to regional health and environment fora.

“There is an urgent need for our two agencies to work more closely together to address the critical threats to environmental sustainability and climate—which are the foundations for life on this planet. This new agreement recognizes that sober reality,” said UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim.

“Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill more than 12.6 million people a year. This must not continue,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Most of these deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where environmental pollution takes its biggest health toll.”

Last month, under the overarching topic “Towards a Pollution-Free Planet”, the UN Environment Assembly convened environment ministers worldwide in adopting a resolution on Environment and Health, calling for expanded partnerships with relevant UN agencies and partners, and for an implementation plan to tackle pollution.


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