Disaster looms over East Africa

By Arusha Times Correspondent

East African Community partner states have been warned on looming ecological disaster and food crisis should measures not been taken to address the impact of climate change.

EAC secretary general Juma Mwapachu spoke of the grim situation facing the region in the event of on going drought at a media summit organised by the regional body.

He said, when addressing journalists from all the five member countries, that failure of rains in many parts of the region was a matter of concern to every body.

"Rains are no longer consistent. When farmers prepare for it, there is no rain. When they despair, rains come, sometimes resulting in devastating floods" he said.

He cited the controversial encroachment of the Mau forests in Kenyan highlands which has led to the drying of rivers draining into Lake Victoria, saying it can have grave consequences to the region.

He said thousands of livestock and wildlife were dying and people's lives threatened because of the drying up of rivers and streams from the Kenya water towers and elsewhere within East Africa

He further warned that ecological disaster could also threaten the world famous Serengeti National Parks and Maasai -Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, which are among the major tourist attractions in the region.

The impact of climate change would not only lead to food and ecological crisis but clashes between farmers and livestock keepers and rising incidences of tropical and other water borne diseases.

Mr. Mwapachu said although EA has the potential to become the food basket in African continent, this was no longer the case as environmental destruction has been worsened by natural weather-related calamities.

He challenged EAC member states to act fast by addressing the crisis through joint conservation projects, adding that the regional body would soon formulate climate change policy.

According to him, the policy draft would be presented for approval to the EAC Council of Ministers - the policy organ of the Community - in November this year.

"The new policy would encapsulate all matters pertaining to protection of the environment and would seek inputs from all the stakeholders including civic society organisations and the media" he said.

He added that once the policy was in place, come November, EAC would unleash strategies to enhance environmental conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

It is expected that by the first quarter of next year, the region should have cross-boundary environmental laws.

"Environmental matters are no longer national issues but regional and international. We need a regional law to ensure cross border environmental issues are addressed," he stressed.

The Community boss reiterated President Yoweri Museveni's assertion that EA can become the food basket of the entire African continent should adequate resources be injected in agriculture.

He cited Tanzania, which he said, has vast land to boost food and cash crop production.

Other speakers at last week's EAC Media Summit also noted that the region has huge potential for agricultural development given its huge land size and natural resources.

Updated statistics indicate that EAC embraces a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $ 70 billion, total population of 125 million people and a land area of 1.8 million square kilometres.

In its bid to emphasize agriculture and food security, in 2006, the partner states formulated the Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and the Agriculture and Rural Development Strategy.