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For decades, dams and rivers – small and big – have continued to provide immense benefits to humanity. From provision of water for domestic use to powering machines for electricity generation, these hydro resources remain vital to not only the existence of humanity, but also for economic development.

Whilst the benefits of rivers and dams remain clearly defined and known by many, the rising environmental challenges such as deforestation and climate change continue to pose a big threat not only to the water bodies but to companies like Kenya Electricity Generating Company PLC (KenGen) that operate its hydropower plants which rely heavily on rainfall.

Data from the United Nations indicates that 2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded. Although a lot of gains on climate change have been achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic period through reduction of carbon emissions especially by the suspension of world travels, more action is needed such as planting trees, particularly in water catchment areas.

Why is tree planting along the banks of rivers and dams vital? Here are some reasons:

1. Stabilisation of Rivers and Dam Banks

Tree planting is effective to stabilize banks as they help in stabilizing the soil around rivers, thereby increasing their lifespan and the benefits to agriculture and hydroelectric power generation.

As such, efforts by individuals and organisations towards tree growing for bank stabilisation ought to be accelerated. As part of corporate efforts to enhance sustainability our hydroelectric power generation in the financial year 2019/2020. KenGen, through its conservation efforts planted more than 2,500 trees, 25,600 sisals in upper Tana Region while in the full year 2020/2021 35,000 sisals and 8,000 indigenous trees were planted to ensure the dams are protected from erosion. In addition, through KenGen’s ambitious social afforestation programme a total 50,634 assorted seedlings were issued to communities for agroforestry and woodlots establishment on farms. This approach is instrumental in ensuring that the upper tana river catchments is conserved, thereby guaranteeing sustainability of energy generation operations. Grass seedlings, gabion installation and Bamboo establishment along riverbanks are some of the many initiatives the company has embraced as part of the bank stabilisation measures along river Mathioya catchment which has so far yielded good results

Currently, KenGen has accelerated environmental conservation across its hydropower stations namely: Turkwel, Sondu-Miriu, Sangoro, Mesco, Wanji, Gogo, Tana, Sagana, Masinga, Kamburu, Kindaruma, Gitaru and Kiambere.

2. Reduction of Soil Erosion

Erosion of rivers banks remain a major contributor to siltation of dams which ultimately reduces the storage capacity of reservoirs, thereby impacting negatively on power generation capacity not to mention their lifespan. Trees are effective in managing soil erosion as they assist to stabilize the soils, reduce the erosivity of the landscape and enhance percolation greatly reducing the silt load that find its way to the reservoirs. As part of the efforts to accelerate uptake of tree planting within the Upper Tana buffer communities, KenGen runs a dedicated tree nursery with an annual output of about 10,0000 seedlings that are given out for free.

In addition, KenGen has been able to achieve immense results through initiatives like the Green Initiative Challenge (GIC), which is an ambitious project implemented through the KenGen Foundation aiming to plant more than 300,000 trees in close to 1,000 schools in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas. The 10-year project, now in its fifth phase, further aims to plant more than 100,000 fruit seedlings. In its entirety, the project is expected to cover over 500 acres of land.

3. Carbon Sinks

Climate change remains among the major catastrophes facing humans. Climate change and its impacts have devasting effects on human population. Climate change mitigation is therefore the focus worldwide to slow the pace of devastating climate change impacts. Trees are significant carbon sinks and critical in offsetting our carbon footprint. Global warming has accelerated the situation because of its adverse effect on rivers and dams, thereby exacerbating the need for more trees in the ecosystem. This forms the basis for the call to accelerate reforestation.

The three reasons above are just among many others that can illustrate the importance of tree planting in safeguarding water bodies in addition to mitigating the adverse effects of climate change on the environment. Tree growing have other benefits like providing habitat for wildlife and enhancing the green economy. As such, if individuals and organisations accelerate their efforts in tree growing especially around water bodies and catchments, a lot of the environmental threats shall be kept at bay.

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