Lamu County, and in particular the Boni-Dodori forest, is an incredibly diverse and rich area. It’s also home to the indigenous Aweer community who depend on beautiful and important area for their livelihoods including food, shelter, herbal medicine, cultural practices and spiritual needs.
A few kilometers away from this important forest are two emerging major infrastructure projects – Lamu deep harbour port (find out more about this), which has already begun, and a proposed coal-fired power plant which aims to increase electric power generation to support industrialisation in Lamu as well as nationally and regionally. The knock-on effect of these developments is that the price of land in the area is increasing rapidly. Investors are already buying up large chunks of land knowing that they stand to gain from the expected boom in the next few years.
The potential impact of these projects on local people and the environment cannot be overstated.
These two mega-infrastructure developments and the projects associated with them present a myriad of potential challenges. The clearing of forests to create space for settlement, agriculture, and industrial parks is already happening. We’re also seeing the population, which is increasing because of the opportunities the infrastructure developments bring, gradually putting more pressure on natural resources such as water, forests, wildlife and land.
We in WWF believe that, in line with global good practice, any developments like those happening around Boni-Dodori must be underpinned by a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). That would help to ensure that the full costs to present and future generations are properly understood. Making this information freely available would also help make an assessment of the value of any proposed development. In addition, a full SEA would provide an opportunity to explore what measures might be put in place to reduce the impact these developments have on people and the environment.
In Boni-Dodori, we are working to ensure that investments in the infrastructure sector are environmentally and socially responsible. Doing that will help us safeguard healthy ecosystems that support sustainable livelihoods and economies. A big part of our role is to ensure that the local people of Lamu, including the Aweer, have a voice in discussions about the planned mega-infrastructure developments. We work with partners to monitor information about these developments and then meet with the community to share this information, ensuring that it’s presented to them in an accessible way – in local languages, for example. We also help to develop their skills in speaking to decision-makers and politicians.
At the same time, we work directly with key stakeholders like the Lamu County Government, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service to influence how development projects are run. For example, we try to ensure that measures are proposed and put in place that would counteract negative effects on the local environment and the people living within and next to development projects.
At the moment we’re working to establish a formalised county-wide network of natural resource stakeholders in Lamu County. This will include representatives from national and county government, community-based organisations, civic society organizations and the local community. You might have read about a similar network in our work in Kwale (on the south Kenyan coast). Our hope is that by supporting this network we can help to strengthen public participation in decision-making and ensure that the livelihoods and rights of local populations and the environment aren’t compromised as the area undergoes development.
You can find out more about WWF’s work in the area by visiting WWF-Kenya’s website.