Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kenya Thirsty for Rains

I spent 21 days in Kenya during August-September 2009 and visited 6 wildlife parks. My friend Moses extended an invitation to me to stay a few extra days with him in Nairobi to get better familiarized with the country. Kenya is undergoing a terrible drought for the past few months that is bringing the country to the edge an environmental disaster both for the animals and the people. The above image is of the almost dried up Masinga Dam which serves both as a source of water and electricity for Nairobi. Not long ago this was the home for crocodiles and hippos; they moved somewhere else. Masinga Dam is the largest reservoir that feeds hydro electrics downstream. There is still water left in the other dams but these are low which led to what I experienced in Nairobi. The water supply is restricted and available for certain days of the week. When water is available, the families use all kinds of tanks to store water but the water pressure is low due the fact that all are doing the same, that seldom if ever the storage tanks get totally filled. There are also water peddlers in carts pulled by donkeys all around the city selling water whose origin is not known. The electricity is available from 6 PM to 8 PM daily again to save the water remaining in the Masinga hydroelectric complex.
Moving out of Nairobi and going into the countryside and the national parks, the lack of water is killing the wildlife as well as crops and country people. It appears that the only ones having a feast are the predators since there are so many weak animals easy to prey upon. I went to Kenya for the migration of the herds crossing the Mara River; these were disrupted and arrived earlier than the August that in the past had been the pattern. I have been there in previous years and was familiar with what to expect. Surprisingly the thousands of wildebeest, zebras and cape buffaloes that arrive in mass to swim across the river were not there as in the past. And neither was the Mara River I knew; it was reduced to a trickle at the major herd crossings near the Serena Lodge. I could have walked across jumping from rock to rock. No all the reduction volume of water flow that was available in the past can be attributed to the lack of rain. There have been considerable farm developments along the Mara River and part of the water has been diverted for irrigation. On the way back from the Masai Mara Park to Nairobi I traveled along the road with wheat fields as far as the eye could see in both sides; it was harvest time and the towns along the area were bustling with truckloads of wheat going to market.
The greatest impact that I observed was at Amboseli. This park is at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, a major source of water in the past for both Kenyan and Tanzania. It has been discussed in the media how the ice cap has been reduced during the last years. The first time I saw it in 1993 the ice cap covered the whole top of the mountain; that is not the case now and just remnants remain. But there is water in Amboseli for drinking from the various marshes supplied by Kilimanjaro's aquifers; the problem is that there is no grass due to the lack of rains.

It was disheartening to see the great number of wildebeests, zebras and water buffaloes that have died as a result of the lack of grass. The elephants are suffering too but they are able to get into the marshes as well as the hippos and graze the marsh vegetation. This source of food may not be accessible to the ruminants due to their inability to reach the marsh grasses or for not being able to consume this type of vegetation. I witnessed on a few occasions animals just hardly walking, suddenly falling onto their sides, and convulsing until death arrived. The last day in Amboseli there was a dust storm that forced the vehicle to be stopped and the roof to be closed until the storm passed.

The drought is compounding the problem with the preservation of the remaining watersheds left in the country due to widespread deforestation. Farmers lost crops and herders had to sell or kill their animals before they were lost for the lack of water. To get alternate income, they resorted to cut more trees to make charcoal to sell; this causes more deforestation. A vicious cycle hard to break despite the efforts of the Kenyan people to preserve the few forests left and the extensive reforestation programs implemented by the Kenyan government and foreign agencies. The day I left Nairobi it rained but considerable rainfall is required to save Kenya from disaster. All are nervously listening to the weather man who is predicting that the El Nino will bring abundant rains in October. I am also anxiously waiting for the rains since Kenya very special to me.


SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

This is absolutely horrendous Jose!! What an awful sight to see!! I have been in drought stricken areas but nothing compared to what I am seeing in these pictures. I know you said it was dry but I did not expect it to be so bad!!! My heart cries for these animals.

It is mind blowing and I wonder if and when it will ever recover. Did Moses say that they would be expecting rain later this season? Is there at least some hope for rain? How many hundreds, no thousands, of animals are going to die in the meantime?

This saddens me like nothing else on earth could. Thank you for this exceptional report and post on what is happening there.

Juan C. Aguero said...

Muy bueno y felicitaciones.
Me gustaria viajar a Namibia.

Becky said...

This saddens me, too. For the wildlife, the country, the people. I am sorry your country is hurting. When will someone listen about global warming, it affects everyone, everywhere. We have so much rain here in Florida, USA takes weeks for tings to dry out. Life is certainly not fair. Thanks for you post.