This month the International League of Conservation Photographers has recognized me as their “Photographer of the Month.” Having been an ILCP Fellow since 2007, I appreciate this honor, especially as it helps NWNL raise awareness of freshwater issues. The timing of this publicity also coincides with national interest on the Mississippi River Flood, problematic pollution of our water supplies from fracking, and American Rivers’ announcement this week of 2011’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers.
Back to my ongoing NWNL research, I just read an article on the balance between honoring indigenous cultures versus protecting our forests which are critical headwater sources of our rivers. The Mau Forest, Kenya’s source for the Mara River, is cited in this discussion modifications needed by REDD and other proposed solutions. However, there is an important point that is NOT made: If forests are not conserved, indigenous people will suffer just as much as everyone else when water reservoirs are emptied by deforestation, climate change droughts and increased severity of weather events.
NWNL interviews in 2009 with the Ogiek in the Mau Forest and with UNEP officials in Nairobi indicate that everyone must leave our headwater forests, but that sufficient compensation – especially to the indigenous communities – must and will be part of an orderly and fair evacuation of this terribly degraded water tower. Our NWNL Mara River video interview with an Ogiek farmer was taped during a punishing 3-year drought, when he agreed everyone must leave, but they need funds with which to start over.
Also complicating the issue, many Ogiek have married outside their community making it difficult to determine who is Ogiek and who is an imposter trying to cash in. Furthermore, the Ogiek culture these days is much less based on a sustainable lifestyle in the woods as honey-gatherers. Today, most are farmers logging trees to plant crops. The plan developed by the UN is to move the Ogiek just outside the forest boundaries, giving them permission to enter the forest for their traditional ceremonies and honey-gathering. This seems to be a carefully-thought-out balance to an environmental crisis exacerbated by climate change and demanding a solution.
Do be in touch if you have any questions or insights that would further No Water No Life’s work!