May 19, 2006

Pastoralists evicted in environment conservation effort

The Tanzanian government has started evicting hundreds of pastoralists from riverbeds and basins in Mbeya, to the southwest of the country, in a bid to protect the environment from further degradation. "Some of the pastoralists have already left the areas, but there are others who don't want to leave and we are going to use force," John Mwakipesile, the Mbeya regional commissioner, said. He further explained that the eviction targeted at least 1.000 pastoralists who, combined, have more than two million head of cattle in the Ihefu Basin, which is the major source of the Great Ruaha River that feeds several hydroelectric dams downstream. "Apart from being an important water resource, Ihefu is a protected area," Mwakipesile said. "It is a game reserve, where intensive human activity is not allowed for conservation purposes, but these people invaded the place and settled there along with their livestock."

He said the government approached the pastoralists' leaders in February and started sensitising them on the need to leave the area. They were also advised to destock if they wanted to remain around the river basin. "We can tolerate some pastoralists outside the reserve areas, but they should have a limited number of livestock, not each having thousands, something which is well above the carrying capacity of the habitat," Mwakipesile said. The government deployed riot police to the area when the eviction began. The police helped to remove those who were reluctant to leave. Some ran away or hid in the bush leaving behind cattle, Mwakipesile said. "Police are holding more than 1.000 head of cattle," he said. "We are going to deal with the owners once they show up. "I was flying in a helicopter, accompanied by the minister for public security and safety [Bakari Mwapuchu] and we saw a lot of cattle still grazing in the prohibited areas."

Asked if the government had provided alternative settlements for the pastoralists, Mwakipesile said: "They are free to go anywhere, even in this region [Mbeya] but they are not allowed to destroy the environment and the best option is to sell most of the cattle and remain with a smaller number that they can manage."

In April, Tanzania's vice-president, Ali Shein, announced that the government would take stringent measures to curb environmental degradation, including the eviction of pastoralists and farmers from protected lands and the prohibition of thin plastic bags. "Human activities - such as reckless tree felling, use of plastic bags, uncontrolled cattle grazing, invasion of reserved forest areas and mountains - are some of the causes of extensive environmental degradation," Shein had said. He ordered pastoralists who had settled in game reserves, including the hills and mountains in eastern and central Tanzania's Eastern Arc as well as Mt Kilimanjaro in the north, to vacate the land immediately.

According to government statistics, Tanzania has at least 16 million head of cattle. Their search for pasture leads to massive environmental degradation. Shein also urged the public to participate in a countrywide tree-planting campaign. Every district should plant at least 1.5 million trees every year, he said. He directed tobacco and tea farmers and other parties who use trees as a means of energy to join the campaign. (Rts)

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