Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you all for joining me today. It is a pleasure to see so many distinguished men and women, and to be accompanied by friends and partners from other lands.
We ought to begin in somber reflection on the tragedy that has touched parts of the country.
Large parts of our country have endured heavy rain since March. Unusual floods followed, whose consequences we have seen: disruption of our lives, and the destruction of property and infrastructure. Few parts of the country have remained untouched: at last count, 32 counties have been affected. Indeed, more than 332,000 Kenyans have been displaced, and it is with a heavy heart that I must inform Kenyans that we have lost more than 100 compatriots in a number of incidents.
The Tana River and Nakuru incidents, in which we have lost many Kenyans, were particularly distressing. Many of the victims in Nakuru were children; they were our sons and daughters. To know that their lives were cut short so early is to know a deep sorrow and anguish. I pray that the families of those we have lost will be comforted; I pray that they will be granted the grace to bear this terrible loss. And let them know that my Government will give every support in this moment of grief and difficulty, so that they can rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
Indeed, every family in the Republic that has lost a loved one can rely on a similar guarantee from my Government. We will stand with you; we will pray with you; we will support you. Wherever you are in the country, we are with you.
We will stand with you because that is our character; that’s what we do as Kenyans. I have been humbled, yet again, by the unity and resilience of our people.
When it became clear that the floods would be more serious than we had expected, Kenyans right across the Republic stepped up to protect their neighbours and friends, and to comfort each other in this difficult time. That spirit of unity and solidarity extended from the Red Cross, the Lions’ Clubs, the Rotarians, and all manner of faith-based and community organizations, to ordinary Kenyans: all were quick to offer support to those touched by this tragedy.
I ought also to mention our development partners, and other friends of Kenya, who have given freely, and who have stood with us; I thank them for their generosity.
Indeed, I offer mine and Kenya’s gratitude to all those who have been good neighbours — to all those who have been their brother’s (and sisters’) keepers. These include the European Union mission, which has made available 1.5m Euros in response to the Red Cross appeal, additional emergency support of 1.3 m Euros from the United Kingdom through development agency DFiD, and 400,000 Euros from the Dutch government. That makes a total of 3.3m Euros going to the Red Cross from our EU partners. Mungu awabariki nyote.
Of course, we in Government have done our part too.
We have rescued marooned Kenyans; we have given water and essential medicines where they were called for; we have intervened to bring relief food; and we restored clean water systems and sanitation where necessary.
Let me thank our men and women in uniform, indeed, all our public servants, for their heroic work.
Time and again, you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to save and serve your countrymen. You endured danger so that other Kenyans would not have to. Mungu na awabariki nyinyi wote.
That said, we who serve Kenyans must do more. We will. Today, I announce that an extra billion shillings will be made available to the Kenya Red Cross to continue its relief work, in addition to the 1.5 billion shillings already set aside.
The multi-sector team in Government tasked with responding to these events will receive every support it needs, so that it can keep every Kenyan safe, and help those affected rebuild their lives. Kenyans expect no less; they will get no less.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I turn now to the day’s business — the matter of our forests and our environment. As will soon become clear, that matter is not as distinct from recent events as we might have hoped.
Some here might recall our first national tree-planting day in 1964, when the first President planted a Mugumo tree at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi. Kenya has since changed out of all recognition: we are healthier, better educated, and more prosperous than we were in 1964. We’ve come a long way.
Some things haven’t changed. The environment remains the bedrock of our development: every sector of our economy depends upon it, and it remains vital in its own right.
Forests account for 4 percent of our GDP; much of our water, for domestic and industrial use, comes from the towers – from Mt Kenya and the Aberdares in the East, to Mt Elgon and Mau in the West.
In that dependence lies the trouble. At 7 per cent, our forest cover remains low: it cannot supply the goods and services required for our development, and certainly not for a country growing as quickly as we are.
The signs are clear: water is scarce and getting scarcer; recent droughts have been unusually severe; and, as we have had cause to remember today, the floods we endure are ever more serious.
And we must also be perfectly clear. The tragedies we have endured, and whose victims we have remembered today remind us that climate change matters.
It is a mortal threat to the people and the prosperity of Kenya. We must learn the lessons of this tragedy; and we must learn them once and for all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The first step is to respect the wisdom of the past – wisdom now enshrined in our supreme law. At article 69, as you will recall, the constitution requires of us that we grow our tree cover to 10 per cent of Kenya’s land.
Given the severity of our challenges, my Administration will achieve that goal by 2022; we will do so by intensifying tree planting and protection.
The target is set; the hard work remains. None of us can sit idle when so much remains to be done. All of us will need to join in. Wherever you are, you can do your part by planting a tree, or, even better, by planting yours, and helping your neighbour plant his.
The effort demands organization. That’s why my Government offered a framework for engagement with communities, stakeholders, and private partners through the Forest Conservation and Management Act, and the National Forest Programme.
That’s why we are working with the counties to develop Transitional Implementation Plans (TIPs) for the devolved forestry functions. And that’s why county Governments will need to apply themselves to the work the plans have set out for them. There is absolutely no time to waste. Of course, national government has its part to play. Much has already been done, but we take three additional steps today.
First, it’s clear to all of us, I hope, that this portfolio of new policy calls for a careful matching of effort between the counties and my Administration, and between the arms of my Administration.
To effect the new policies, national Government representatives in the counties must work together even more closely than they have in the past. They are so directed.
We will also need to make the most of every bit of the skill and experience we have: the Chiefs’ nurseries, therefore, ought to be revived immediately, with the help of the Kenya Forest Service, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, and our community organizations.
None of this will matter much if we don’t preserve the forests we already have, so I must ask County Commissioners to integrate conservation and environmental protection into community policing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We cannot protect our forests, and mitigate climate change unless we teach our sons and daughters how to manage our natural resources. So I must ask the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Education to consider how best to teach our children a new appreciation of the dangers of climate change, and of the necessity of preserving our environment, as demanded by Climate Change Act of 2016.
It is important to complete the nationalization of the tree planting effort, so I expect every child in every school in the Republic to be taught to adopt and nurture a tree. But that is nowhere near enough: we owe it to those who have suffered these tragedies to teach our children how to make sure their generation never has to. I expect, then, to see a clear plan for the teaching of the relevant skills.
As you will recall, in 2014, I launched the Green Schools program. Under that program 10% of all school land was to be covered by trees.
We now ask the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Education to ensure that this is done as part of incorporating climate change in the curriculum.
The environmental lesson will not be confined to our children. We have seen that climate change is a deadly threat; but we also know that our environment, with all its natural wealth, offers broad prospects for growth and prosperity.
Indeed, it is clear that if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we set ourselves in the Big Four, environmental conservation and forestry development must be more prominent than they have been.
We in Government see potential for new green jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for our young people.
To liberate the energy, innovation and enterprise of our young people, we will look into arranging opportunities for green bonds, for tax rebates on forest products, and for all the other incentives we will need to make the environment work for our young people.
That work will be done in partnership with the private sector, many of whom have shown, by their contribution to this event, and to the relief of recent tragedies, that they are wholly committed to preserving Kenya’s environment.
I am deeply grateful, and I urge those who have yet to commit to come to join us now. Come, let us heal and renew this land together.
Today’s tree planting is undertaken in all 47 counties; it will continue in all of them throughout the year until our targets are not just achieved, but surpassed. To honour all those who distinguish themselves this year, and in years to come, I will establish a Presidential Environment Award Scheme.
It is time, Ladies and Gentlemen to honour the patriots upon whom the preservation of our natural riches depends.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I close by asking you to remember the victims of these floods in prayer, and to let your prayer move you to action. Reach out to those who have suffered. Contribute to the Red Cross, and to the other honest institutions, which have done so much to being relief. Let us stand together.
It is now my pleasure to declare the National Tree Planting and Clean-Up Campaign 2018 officially launched.
Thank you. God bless Kenya.