In New York, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is holding a meeting this week – the first since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was finalized last September.
One of those addressing the forum today is Kiplangat Cheruyot, a leader of Kenya’s Ogiek people. The Ogiek live mostly in the Mau Forest overlooking the Rift Valley and are among the few remaining hunter-gatherers in East Africa. From New York, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
“My presentation is all about the climate change. Climate change is all about the increase in temperature…and there have been several impacts to the indigenous people like the Ogiek. For instance, there’s been increased diseases due to this climate change pattern – cholera, malaria and meningitis. Because a long time ago, the indigenous people used to live peacefully in a nice, clean environment, but now, due to destruction of their habitats…you find out now there’s been an increase in diseases… Secondly, there’s an issue of increased drought and desertification due to forest degradation as a result of human activities like logging and charcoal burning,” he says.
He also says with the loss of forest areas, the Ogiek are unable to find traditional herbal medicines. They are forced to travel long distances to medical clinics and pay high prices for western-style drugs.
Cheruyot also says, “There’s a shortage of food, like wild fruits and wild meat and even honey. This is what has been keeping the survival of the Ogiek for many years…. I can say it is food insecurity.” He says the Kenyan government has placed restrictions on hunting, classifying much of it as poaching, which has had a direct effect on hunter-gatherers.
The Ogiek leader also blames new settlements, which have damaged their traditional habitat.
“The Mau Forest should be fenced so that the Ogiek can only stay with their trees and enjoy their own culture and replant again. Restore the rich Mau Forest,” he says.
He says elders estimate there are only about 20,000 Ogiek in Kenya, adding he’s concern any will be left within 50 to 100 years.