Drought in East Africa: The Human Benefits of Standing Forests

This week, an Associated Press article about drought in Kenya brought millions of people’s attention to the deep connections between the environment and human well-being. It is during years of extreme weather events such as severe drought, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that we are all reminded how close many people live to the very edge of survival and at the behest of Mother Nature.

This is the case for many in East Africa, which is now plagued by the worst drought in nearly 50 years. The failure of the last two anticipated rainy seasons has led to rivers drying up and worse, a lack of fresh grass growth to feed domestic cattle, sheep and goats as well as wildlife. All of these animals are suffering equally with carcasses strewn everywhere, and sadly many rural people are also teetering on the edge of starvation.

The situation has been compounded by the steady destruction of the region’s highland forests which act as water catchments and regulate the flow of water from forests into the streams and rivers, like a sponge. Early indicators of environmental stress included water and power shortages in the main towns and cites as a result of reduced hydroelectric power. But the real culprit is the reduction in forest cover has happened over recent decades through illegal exploitation of forests’ reserves.

A 20- minute documentary about CEPF’s efforts to protect what remains of the incredibly rich montane and coastal forests of East Africa.

During this extreme year, people are realizing the true value of the services provided by these forests. The seriousness of this drought has lead to recent calls to reverse the situation by compensating people who voluntarily move out of the previously-forested areas and instigating reforestation programs. But any real change will take years to show any effect.

We are all hoping that the rains come early this year to ease this dire situation.

John Watkin is a Grant Director for CEPF, a CI joint venture that provides grants to nongovernmental organizations to help protect vital ecosystems.


  1. Julius says

    Great article.
    Nature’s lessons are very harsh as your article demonstrates. That we destroy forests at our own peril is known by most scientists and published widely. If the messages from scientists were headed, it would not have to come to this.

    But sadly, the messages from scientists are not taken seriously by politicians and decision-makers, who are preoccupied with individual monetary and political gains.

    I think, hope lies primariry with local community-based organisations, which are increasingly demonstrating that they can influence behaviours of people towards sustainable development. we should all continue to support these groups.

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