By Ekakoro Emm
RIPARIAN PROTECTION – THE TRUTHS AND THE LIES, AND THE UNDERLYING IGNORANCE
The past one week has seen several people posting various pictures of human development on riparian land or littoral systems (I have introduced another one here) with the caption: “HAWA HAWATAMBUI RIPARIAN LAND.” A situation is then created where you are either for or against the ongoing demolitions.
We have been shown pictures of developments right on the river in Venice, London, Holland, etc. I must add that the pictures are being shared by otherwise very intelligent and highly learned Kenyans. I don’t know whether they are being sarcastic or serious.
I think that right there is where our problems start. We like copy-pasting laws and regulations without checking them for relevance, or digging deeper to see how they are implemented in the countries where were are copying them from.
It is ridiculous for example to say let us ban human activities within 30 metres of river and lake shores and 60 metres from the Indian Ocean and expect that we have solved the problem. If environmental protection was indeed that serious, almost all human activities in Kenya would be illegal. We have encroached on wildlife areas for centuries, and we keep doing so, sometimes without even being conscious about it. That is why more than half of the flora and fauna I used to encounter as a young boy are no longer there, or very rare.
When we say “HAWA HAWATAMBUI RIPARIAN LAND,” we are both right and wrong. Right to say that those regulations seem not to be applying there. Wrong in suggesting that formulating such regulations is a stupid, useless exercise. The key word is MITIGATION.
The examples we bring up have been around for centuries or even millennia. Those people long learnt how to work with nature such that human activities do no into interfere adversely with nature. London Bridge on The Thames for example would have stopped the river flow it were in Kenya. The English however, considered every possible aspect while designing the bridge. And whenever a new overlooked factor comes up, adjustments are done. Even in that case, there are certain things you won’t find the English doing. They won’t dump raw waste in the Thames for example.
EMCA (1999) requires an EIA for developments of certain types. One of the components of an EIA is elaboration of mitigation measures to address the expected adverse environmental impacts identified. And that is our biggest problem. We submit EIAs with generic interventions that are not worth the paper they are written on. And because of this, our developments will always conflict with nature.
If we learnt to do meaningful interventions, we could build factories and schools and even homes on rivers without a problem, and even showcase them as touristic sites. But as it is, we think passing a law solves everything.
In conclusion, do I think the ongoing demolition, even if implemented 100% including on buildings mentioned by wananchi but not on the current NEMA list, will suddenly see our rivers flowing clean with full volumes? I don’t think so, and if you disagree, you are free to illustrate why.
And why do I sound so pessimistic, you might want to know… TWO reasons:
a) Our history speaks for itself. Once the euphoria is gone and the political objective achieved, it will be back to BAU (Business-As-Usual for the uninitiated).
b) Environmental management requires a system approach. You don’t demolish buildings and leave all the other related factors untouched and expect a solution. That also includes having an appropriate development master-plan.
You can now go back to your intellectualism and counter-intellectualism.