Bottlenecks in the conservation of critical wetlands in Kenya
- From swamps, lakes, rivers, riparian lands to sandy beaches, wetlands are vital for drinking water supply, health, tourism and the agricultural sectors.
- But wetlands are threatened by human activities due to pollution and encroachment from population growth and the effects of climate on rivers and water bodies.
- Environmentalists and other stakeholders are concerned about the lack of harmonious enforcement of conservation laws, which poses a threat to the conservation of threatened wetlands in the country.
From swamps, lakes, rivers, riparian lands to sandy beaches, wetlands are vital for drinking water supply, health, tourism and the agricultural sectors.
But wetlands are threatened by human activities due to pollution and encroachment from population growth and the effects of climate on rivers and water bodies. Environmentalists and other stakeholders are concerned about the lack of harmonious enforcement of conservation laws, which poses a threat to the conservation of threatened wetlands in the country.
In a report titled State of Wetlands in Kenya by the National Environmental Complaints Committee, the Environmental Ombudsman identifies some of the constraints such as legal and policy loopholes, uncoordinated implementation of sector plans , inadequate information base and low community participation in the management of wetlands to endanger them.
According to Philip Raburu, senior wetland researcher, although Kenya has strong laws and policies, there is an urgent need to harmonize policies to help enforce wetland protection.
In Kenya, legal frameworks on wetland management include the Constitution, Environmental Management and Coordination Act 1999, Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016, Forest Conservation Act 2016, Wildlife Conservation and Management, Water Act 2016, Land Act 2012, and National Land Commission Act. 2012.
He says Kenya has laws, regulations and laws. However, several state agencies have different descriptions of land or riparian areas and tend to work independently in natural resource management.
“Most of the livelihood is based on agriculture, so you find that the Ministry of Agriculture has its particular description of the riparian lands to be protected, just like the Ministry of Water or the Resource Management Authority. water, which has a different way of classifying riparian areas. Nema (National Environment Management Authority) also has different ways of describing areas as riparian, which leads to a lot of conflict when it comes to managing these resources, ”explains Prof. Raburu, who is also vice-chancellor. assistant in charge of planning, research and extension at the University of Eldoret.
In Kenya, some of the sites internationally designated for protection under the Ramsar Convention include the Tana River Belt, Lake Olbosat, Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Naivasha due to its national significance.
However, experts fear that these wetlands continue to face many challenges due to improper application.
Unlike Uganda which has created a full-fledged wetlands department, Kenya does not have a centralized unit to oversee wetland management, hampering conservation efforts.
Experts recommended the harmonization of these bodies to strengthen the protection of these critically endangered natural resources. For example, the Kenya Wildlife Service in charge of protecting wetlands in protected areas like national parks, while Nema manages wetlands and authorizes all projects in all areas, including those considered wetlands.
“Conflicts arise in terms of who does what. In general, it is understood that all wetlands need to be protected … The policies are there but the division of labor hinders enforcement efforts, so these bodies need to be harmonized so that we transparently protect these wetlands in the country ”. said Professor Raburu at the second national wetland conference in 30 years which brought together policy makers, researchers and other key stakeholders.
On May 12, the University of Eldoret organized the first national conference on wasteland in the country which brought together different actors in the sector. The last time Kenya hosted such a forum was in 1992.
Professor Raburu regretted that higher education institutions lack research materials as reference tools for academics and wetland managers.
“There is no single standard book written by Kenyans on wetlands despite many studies in the past, we expected to get 60 abstracts, but we received 90 abstracts.
From the research papers we receive, they will help develop books and a policy framework to guide better wetland management, ”he says.
Although there is no official data on the exact size of wetlands, various data vary on the same. Wetlands are estimated to cover three to five percent of the land, depending on the season.
Currently, various government agencies and Kenyan university researchers have embarked on mapping all natural resources, including wetlands, to develop a national atlas of natural resources.
“Several government agencies such as the commission are currently working on the report and it is expected to be completed within the next two months. Wetlands have been pushed to the periphery, but science tells us otherwise that they are an essential ecosystem and that we should conserve them, ”said Reginald Okumu, commissioner at the National Land Commission.
He says there is a need to embrace scientific research to develop natural resource management policies.
“For a long time they were seen as a barrier to development, but science tells us we need to keep them. We need to put in place the right policies to protect wetlands for the benefit of present and future generations, ”says Okumu.
He says the Constitution recognizes wetlands as public land but does not say how local communities can use natural resources in a sustainable manner. Due to a lack of clarity on the law, wetland communities often find themselves living as squatters.
“Although in the past wetlands were considered non-attributable … there is no classification as to whether they are community or government lands, unlike forests. With the 2010 Constitution, forests were clearly identified as community or public, but this did not happen for wetlands, ”Mr. Okumu argues.
International conventions and the Kenyan Constitution protect the rights of communities living near wetlands and advocate for the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of all citizens.
“Unlike forests where it is clearly defined as public or community, this has not happened in wetlands. It is becoming very difficult to grant access or protect the rights of these communities like other communities in terms of community forests and I think this needs to be rectified, ”says the land policy expert.
Although Kenya is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are threatened by human activities such as pollution.
By designating a wetland as a Ramsar site, countries agree to establish and oversee a management framework to conserve the wetland and ensure its wise use.
Wise use under the convention is broadly defined as maintaining the ecological character of a wetland.
Wetlands may be included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance because of their ecological, botanical or zoological importance.
And even though the law sets out the complex conditions on how to allocate public land to an individual, there are no such tools in environmental conservation.
“The existing conditions are oriented towards the built environment or agriculture. But when it comes to environmental conservation, there are no specific tools that can be used … We hope scientists will guide us in creating such tools such as climate intelligence to include when issuing orders or leases, ”Okumu said.
The Environmental Management and Coordination Act 1999 defines wetlands as permanently or seasonally flooded areas where plants and animals have adapted seasonally.
Dr John Chumo, committee secretary at the National Environmental Complaints Committee (NECC) argues that different decentralized units should pool funds to help implement wetland management plans to protect them. .
“Counties should develop management plans for all wetlands. Local communities must be involved in the management and rehabilitation of wetlands, ”adds Dr Chumo.
Charles Oluchina, regional program coordinator at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said the effects of climate change presented an opportunity to promote the use of green bonds, carbon credit and development climate-smart innovations by scientists to protect wetlands.
Environment PS Dr Chris Kiptoo, who chaired the inter-ministerial committee tasked with establishing the reason for the increase in water volumes in lakes, says wetlands are at risk due to human activities, deforestation and change climate.
During the conference, he said the government had developed strong laws and policies and called for collective responsibility in the protection and conservation of wetlands, the source of raw materials for medicines, food and water. potable water.