Kenya to Develop Three Tourism Resort Cities; But At What Environmental cost?

Posted on 31 August 2007. Filed under: Development, Environment |

That the Kenya Government has made advanced plans to develop three tourist resort cities is highly commendable from an economic point of view. In recent years golf tourism has increased in popularity and the number of golf courses is growing rapidly all over the world.

However, economic development must not override concerns for environmental degradation. The government must come out openly and publicize the environmental impact assessment reports of these projects so that they may be debated exhaustively.

Within the last 5 years, golf tourism has been spreading rapidly in South Asia and the Carribean leading to serious degradation of coastal environments, groundwater pollution, water scarcity and resulting in conflicts with local communities and resident farmers who see themselves forced to sell their land to golf course investors. Has the Kenyan Government taken into consideration such effects in Kenya?

While many countries have put in legislation to control the growth of new golf course developments as there are serious concerns about water conservation and environmental degradation, Kenya seems to be doing the opposite.

The Impact of Golf Estates:

Water demand/ supply
The amount of water golf courses use varies greatly depending on the region, but on average they use about 10 800 000 litres of water per year (according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association, US golf courses use, on average, 414 500 000 litres a year). In essence each golf course uses enough water to provide at least 1200 people with their basic water needs for a year. Kenya is a dry country and many people still do not have access to running water.

Can we afford to waste water on playgrounds for the rich?
However, using water-saving measures can cut the water use by a third, and some golf course estates are using recycled sewage effluent to water their greens and fairways. This however has other negative environmental impacts.

Pollution through pesticides and fertilisers
The addition of any nutrients to the system, for example through using fertilizers, impacts upon surrounding ecosystems. Increased nutrients may encourage aliens species to invade and discourages indigenous vegetation. Eutrophication of water bodies may also occur. This is associated with a proliferation of plant life, especially algae, which reduces the dissolved oxygen content and often causes the local extinction of other organisms. While the use of sewage water for irrigation may solve the water problem, it adds even more nutrients to the system, compounding the negative environmental impacts of using fertilisers.

Pesticides and herbicides kill off insects and weeds within the confines of the golf course estate. However these can spread into nearby ground water or river systems. The use of pesticides may affect species higher up the food chain by either reducing the amount of food available, or through the accumulation of persistent poisons in their bodies. Insects also provide important ecosystem functions such as pollination and seed dispersal. Their removal may have serious long-term implications for habitat viability.

Alien vegetation
Golf estates may facilitate the spread of invasive alien plants through increased disturbance and nutrient levels. Furthermore, gardens are recognised as an important source of invasive species. The introduction of kikuyu grass, for example, may have devastating effects on surrounding natural habitats.

Golf course estates are essentially upmarket, residential areas located within their own private park. They are generally not located within urban areas. They usually cover large tracts of land and are frequently proposed within pristine areas, where they reduce biodiversity and destroy conservation-worthy habitats. In the short-term the overall monetary value of golf course estates may be greater than that of farming. However, in the long term, these short-term monetary gains, which benefit only a few individuals, may be eclipsed by a shortage of food-producing areas.

Urban sprawl
Many golf estate developments are on the urban edge or in semi-rural areas. This results in urban sprawl and can create unplanned-for development nodes where infrastructure does not exist. This places an added burden on local municipalities and the community at large, for example, through increased traffic congestion and demand for services.

Supply of services
In general these developments consist of clusters of 500 housing units, or more. In effect they are creating small towns. This has enormous impacts on water demand and sewage services, especially where such large-scale growth has not been planned for. As these are housing developments for the upper end of the market, where are the resources to be found for the lower end, disadvantaged communities development?

Socio-political issues, equity and access
This is probably the most serious weakness of golf course estates. Golf course estates are frequently elitist enclaves, isolated from surrounding communities. They have thrived on people’s fear and insecurities in the face of increasing levels of crime and violence. They are populated by people who have accumulated sufficient wealth to do something about this, but rather than use their considerable resources to assist in addressing the problem, they attempt to block themselves off from the rest of society. At its most benign, this takes the form of fencing and closing off residential areas to the public, limiting access to public open space. At its most extreme, it means guards, razor wire and electric fences.

For society, this cannot be healthy, creating divides between the elite and the surrounding communities, and fostering resentment and tension between the haves and the have nots. By limiting access to natural resources such as arable land, fuel, water, food and medicinal plants, golf estates further impoverish poor communities, both economically and psychologically.

Increasingly, attempts are being made to compensate communities for these losses by making substantial financial contributions, or by offering to build facilities for the affected community. These financial contributions are equitable exchanges as they do not address the issues at hand.

Golf course estates are not necessarily for golfers.
On average, only a very small percentage of residents are golf players, the remainder choosing to live there because of the secure environment, and because they like the idea of staying in a park. This may possibly be extended to the golfing tourist industry, as we have reason to believe that a substantial number of tourists on these golf tours do not play golf at all. This is an important factor to consider when addressing the environmental issues and, perhaps more importantly, when trying to find solutions and alternatives.

The enthusiastic drive for golf course estates amongst local authorities appears to be linked to perceived economic growth, and job creation, through golf tourism. Local authorities also seem to think that the rates created by the exclusive golf course estate can then subsidise the development of disadvantaged areas.

However, these conclusions rely on certain assumptions:

That all economic growth will lead to job creation and skills development, particularly at the lower-skilled end of the labour force.
This is not necessarily true. There are generally fewer jobs than initially promised, and the jobs are often menial with little prospect for training or capacity building. Skilled staff are generally drawn from the ranks of those who already have jobs, thereby depleting the skills base in other areas. Even at construction phase, construction firms often prefer to bring in their own labour.

That foreigners spend large sums of money in the country.
Golf tourism necessarily relies on overseas tourists who pay for their tours in their country of origin. The money actually remaining in South Africa is therefore somewhat limited, with the vast amounts of money being recycled back to the country of origin.

– That the value of the land is signified by the amount of income it generates (generally through rates) and that any development which increases this is positive.

The loss of agricultural land means loss of potential food production in the future. Although it is increasingly recognised that pristine habitats have economic value of their own, through inter alia the services and resources they provide and the tourists that flock to appreciate our
scenic and endemic landscapes, these values are not generally considered in conventional economic systems.

The current proliferation global of golf course estates is not sustainable. In order to ensure that all the above issues and concerns are addressed, we request that a strategic environmental assessment be required for any major golf estate development.

On a more positive note, if golf estates are appropriately located and planned for, they could play a valuable role in rehabilitating derelict areas and transforming them into green belt areas. However, where a golf course estate development is proposed for an ecologically degraded environment

Such a development could only be supported if;

– the results of an objective, independent Environmental Impact Report show that there would be no significant negative environmental impacts.

– an environmental monitoring committee is formed to ensure that the development follows an environmental management plan.

– the environmental management plan follows international best practice.

AND if such a development;

– will ensure public access to the communal green space,
– will rehabilitate a degraded habitat,
– will enhance the overall economic, social and environmental benefits to the surrounding communities, will result in pockets of protected conservation-worthy land, and will provide a buffer between the urban area and the non-urban land.

In summary, it would appear that golfing estates are less about golf and more about the widening and increasingly prevalent gap between the rich and the poor. Golfing estates are an aggressive, and environmentally and socially destructive method used by the rich to insulate themselves from what they regard as uncomfortable realities.

Related story on this blog:

KENYA’S GOLF COURSES: A Threat to the Environment?


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3 Responses to “Kenya to Develop Three Tourism Resort Cities; But At What Environmental cost?”

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tourism is my favourite

i have read carefully thro your advocacy writeup.It is unfortunate that your concerns are nothing but political undertones which popularised some political class propagating hatred against the wealthy kenyans and instead offer no alternatives to alleviate poverty from amongst our people. Be realistic and give kenyans hope that they can be rich. To say the least you must be an advocate for basket case which is an outdated policy only propagated by colonial regimes.For the communities who live within Isiolo we welcome Resort city yesterday.I request anyone else holding onto nothing but a backward intuition to join the successful lot and we move

I think the writer was quoting specific statistics and this is in relation to water resources which is indeed a major policy question that not very easy answers exist. To be sure that Alex sees where I think the writer of the article was coming from, consider that the UN Watercourses Convention comes into force 17th August 2014 after it was adopted by the UN in 1997 says a lot about water issues. They are absolutely difficult decisions and that is why political decisions need to be made carefully.

In my opinion, I see nothing in the article that is backward but simple logic. That many people in Kenya (just like many other areas of SSA) are without this basic right (I call it a right as this is one of those espoused in the universal declaration and the right to food and its related Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where the right to right to food, is interpreted as requiring “the availability of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.” These are the facts and if you live in Kenya know that this right has not been sufficiently addressed and progress towards its realization is still slow. Why? My guess is as good as yours.

Maybe what the writer should suggest is that once the EIA reports for these resorts are made public (Which I am sure will be as this is what the EMCA says should happen), the public should do its best and scrutinize them sufficiently.

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