Kenya in Dire Need of a National Environmental Policy
Countries around the world are pursuing environmental management at various levels and employing a range of strategies. However, available evidence suggests that environmental policy in developing countries remains largely incoherent. Developing countries need rationalized environmental policies. These are lacking mainly because poverty and socioeconomic needs are often seen as more pressing than the need for environmental controls. How to balance these is a major challenge. Kenya, in particular, is faced with diverse and complex environmental challenges and has been struggling to resolve these, mainly because it has been operating without a national environmental policy. As the country strives to accelerate the pace of development, environmental concerns have become more evident. This is further compounded by the difficulties of placing an economic value on natural resources. Meanwhile the continuing deterioration of Kenya’s environment has precipitated a number of hazards that have long-term irreversible damage. The adverse impacts of deforestation, particularly where natural ecosystems are involved, are widely recognized. The planned forest clearance, which has gotten underway in several areas of the Mount Kenya, the Nandi forests and the Mau Forest, is to benefit mainly local loggers, squatters and tea growers. Similarly, out of the justifiable need to create more jobs and enhance economic development, policy makers and planners often ignore the potential negative effects that various developments cause to the environment – a situation exacerbated by the rapidly growing population.
In Kenya, policy making and the whole planning process has tended to fall short of the expectations. It was in post independence Kenya that the government was to create an equitable structure that would support the efficient utilization of available resources. However, the country’s first two development plans for the periods 1965 -1974 had no explicit mention of environmental policy. Nonetheless, the policy makers acknowledged the role of forests and water catchment areas, wildlife management and the mining sector as valuable natural resources.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, the environmental concerns gradually shifted to controlling human behavior with a view to achieving a balance between the development needs of the nation and enhancing the management of the environment. It is during this period that the government began the implementation of Structural Adjustment Programs. For instance, government stepped up efforts to strengthen institutions tasked with the responsibility of assessing and monitoring environmental changes that were likely to have harmful effects in the future. This was the first attempt by the government to apply the principles of environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The enactment of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) No.8 1999 that served as the main framework environment law, was among the steps in the country’s commitment towards environmental sustenance. This notwithstanding, an evaluation of the EMCA discloses that there are inadequacies in the Act in that it only addresses issues of environmental management in a sectional spectrum. As Kenya’s principal legal instrument on the environment, the EMCA is expected to address all aspects of the procedural and substantive process in relation to environment and development, including law enforcement and monitoring of compliance. However, strategies to achieve this have not been fully developed or implemented. Different factors that have contributed to these situations include:
- lack of institutional capacity and resources to mobilize and link activities effectively within and between sectors,
- specific environmental sectoral laws that do not adequately articulate the links between development, population and environmental concerns; and more often conflict with the EMCA, and
- limited budgetary provisions to finance the effective implementation of environmental programs set out in national development plans.
In this regard, a more resolute solution would be the formulation of the National Environmental Policy whose primary objective would be to ensure compliance and enforcement of the law. Such a policy would also harmonize all approaches towards environmental management and strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination.
Currently, a far-reaching initiative towards an elaborate national environmental policy is contained in the Sessional Paper No. 6 of 1999 on Environment and Development. It advocates for the integration of environmental concerns into the national planning and management processes and provides guidelines for environmental sustainable development. The challenge of the document and guidelines is to critically link the implementation framework with statutory bodies namely, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forestry Service (KFS); the Public Complaints Committee (PCC) and the National Environmental Tribunal (NET).
A review of all the relevant regulatory and structural frameworks is therefore necessary in order to develop an implementation strategy that will ensure cross-sectoral relations within the various government agencies. In addition, while there have been positive efforts to date, there is an apparent lack of coordination, commitment and the political will to ensure that sectoral policies are implemented and adhered to. Most importantly though, is to have the National Environmental Policy that will harmonize the sectoral policies.