Sunday, May 11, 2014

CONSERVATION OF WETLANDS IN KENYA.

Wetlands are areas of land that are permanently, seasonally or occasionally water logged with fresh, saline, brackish, or marine waters, including both natural and man-made areas that support characteristic biota. Globally, wetlands occupy about 6% of the earth's surface. Kenya's wetlands occupy about 3% to 4%, which is approximately 14,000 kilometers square of land surface and fluctuates up to 6% in the rainy seasons. Wetlands have several functions and uses which range from ecological, economic, recreational and cultural. They include; ECOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS a. Maintenance of the water table The impeded drainage of a wetland allows water to stay in one place long enough to maximize infiltration. This helps in the recharge and discharge of both ground and water resources. A high water table means that in the immediate surroundings of the wetland there is access to water supplies for plants. b. Erosion control and flood control. In their natural condition, wetlands function as a barrier to erosion. The regions downstream of the wetlands would receive full erosive force of storm events, resulting in soil and stream bank degradation. Flood damages in the United States average to $ 2 billion each year causing significant loss of life and property. Wetlands therefore play a role in reducing the frequency and intensity of floods by acting as natural buffers, soaking up and storing significant amount of floodwater. A wetland can typically store about three-acre feet of water, or one million gallons. c. Sediment trap (Acts as a sieve) Material eroded from the surrounding catchment areas by rivers is sedimented out when the flow of water is slowed upon entering a wetland. Sediment retention prevents downstream resources such as dams, farmlands, rivers and lakes from being silted up. Natural wetlands are so effective at removing pollutants from water that flows through them as the plants and soils absorb much of the excess nutrients in the water hence improving water quality. d. Wetlands as carbon sinks/ storage. Wetlands are one of the most effective ecosystems for carbon storage a critical aspect to climate change and global warming mitigation. e. Wildlife Habitat and centers of biological diversity Diverse species of mammals, plants, insects, birds, reptiles, and fish rely on wetlands for food, habitat or shelter. Endangered species use or inhabit wetlands at some time in their life. Some species must have a wetland to reproduce. Migrating waterfowl rely on wetlands for resting, eating and breeding areas, leading to increased populations. The appeal of wetlands and diversity of plant and animal life contribute to or support many businesses. SOCIO- ECONOMIC FUNCTIONS a. Tourism and recreation Wetlands are often inviting places for recreational activities including hiking, fishing, bird watching, photography and hunting. These activities also contribute towards the country’s foreign exchange. According to studies done, Lake Nakuru for instance gets approximately 300,000 visitors per year bringing US$ 24 million and the estimated value of flamingos in Lake Natron as a flamingo breeding site based on the recreation value of one flamingo per year is US$ 11,819,091. An average price tag of US$33 trillion a year has been established by researchers on these fundamental ecosystem services globally. That is nearly twice the gross national product (GNP) of US$ 18 trillion. b. Plant products Papyrus and similar plants have been traditionally harvested for necessities such as thatching, mats, baskets while the palms and smaller sized trees are used as structural building materials. For instance communities living around Rivers Nzoia, Yala, Nyando and Sio use papyrus plants materials to make traditional fishing gear. Traditional conical basket traps “esivu” and “Omukono” among the:Luhyia and “Sienya” among the Luo. c. Water supply Wetland plants have the capacity to take out impurities from the water thus filtering it. Because of this function, it has been possible for rural communities to obtain a pure water supply at no cost. d. Cattle grazing The marginal parts of wetlands, where the soil is permanently or seasonally moist, have for long been used as grazing areas for livestock especially during the dry season. Grazing and watering of livestock is an important traditional common practice for many communities in Kenya for example the Maasai, Tugens, Turkana, Oromo and Njemps. Traditional livestock rearing is a cultural activity and wetlands are its life support. d. Fishing Wetlands harbor a substantial population of fish, which have traditionally been caught as an important food item in many parts of Kenya. 3. SOCIO-CULTURAL FUNCTIONS a. Ceremonial sites Most communities in Kenya have used wetlands as site for carrying out traditional rites for example circumcision ceremonies among the Bukusu people of Western Kenya use special wetlands sites in River Nzoia basin for these ceremonies. The Kipsigis community of Bomet also carry out circumcision ceremonies on sites at River Sise and the Pokomo of Tana River District. b. Sacred sites Several wetlands in Kenya are considered as sacred sites where communities make sacrifices for ancestral spirits and spiritual consultations. For example part of Yala Swamp has sites that have traditionally been used for spiritual purposes. c.Sources of traditional food Wetlands provide traditional vegetables to many riverine communities for example Luhya women collected “enderema” and “lubiliabilia” from the wetlands. The Pokomo used Nyamthaceae species of leaves as vegetables while its potatoes like tuber “Makole” is a source of carbohydrate. Typha domigensis locally known as “Enarau” is a root chewed by the Maasai during the dry periods. 4. THREATS AND CHALLENGES TO WETLANDS IN KENYA Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems due to their functions and attributes. They are essential to the well-being of Kenyans as they contribute significant economic and social benefits to the country. Despite their high productivity and provision of many benefits, wetland ecosystems in Kenya are still facing serious threats including; a. Unsustainable use of wetland resources through; overgrazing, over cultivation, over abstraction of water for domestic use, agriculture and industrialization as well as illegal and improper fishing practices. b. Eutrophication which may be caused through pollution by domestic sewage, industrial effluent which choke water ways and agro-chemicals that increase nutrient levels thus causing algae blooms and fish kills. c. Establishment of new human and livestock settlements in wetland areas. d. Cutting and burning of aquatic and other vegetation for fuel, housing and commercial activities. e. Unplanned development activities including dam construction, coastal development, mining and quarrying. f. Introduction, illegally or otherwise, of non-traditional or alien species into wetlands such as water hyacinth, Nile perch, Red cray fish. g. Hunting and killing of wildlife within wetlands, which in turn undermines the integrity of these fragile ecosystems as food chains are destructed. h. Degradation of water catchment areas such as the Mau Complex, Mount Kenya, Cherengani hills, Aberdares ranges and Mount Elgon where many rivers and streams rise from that flow into the major types of wetlands in our country. The destruction of these catchment areas results into siltation and increased suspended solids and reduced water levels in rivers and lakes downstream. i. Lack of an operational National Wetlands Policy and cross-cutting sectoral policies in Kenya, where by government Ministries do not liaise in developing management plans on water use (Water and Irrigation, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Planning and Development, Environment and Natural Resources). j. Lack of management plans has exuberated wetland destruction and degradation e.g.. Lake Naivasha k. Limited funds, where by Wetland management institutions lack adequate and continuous funds and personnel for monitoring, management, research and community awareness l. Lack of community participation in management of the various wetland resources in the country. While wetlands have the potential of contributing significantly to the socio-economic development of Kenya, they face diverse and severe threats. These threats include among others inappropriate human activities within the catchments and in the wetlands, lack of coordinated and holistic policy guidelines, and climate change. The threats have induced changes that have eroded the ecological and socio-economic values and services derived from wetlands. The underlying threat remains lack of recognition of the importance of these wetlands. i. Reclamation and Conversion of wetlands: Drainage and reclamation of wetlands for agricultural development, human settlement and industrial development is one of the biggest threats to wetland conservation and management. In the past, wetlands have been regarded as “wastelands”, which harbour disease vectors. This has led to large-scale drainage and conversion for alternative uses without regard to ecological and socio-economic values. ii. Over- exploitation of wetland goods and services: Increasing human populations and change from subsistence to commercial exploitation of wetland resources continue to exert increasing pressures on limited wetland resources, resulting in a decline of services and quality as well as quantity of products derived from wetlands. iii. Pollution, Eutrophication and Salinization of wetlands: The quality of many water sources in Kenya is declining as a result of municipal, agricultural and industrial wastes/ discharges. These have negatively impacted water quality and biodiversity within the wetland ecosystems thereby reducing their values. Increased nutrient loads have led to eutrophication and episodes of algal blooms in wetlands near major settlements. In certain areas excessive abstraction of fresh waters, diversions, and catchment degradation, have led to increased salinity. iv. Alien Invasive Species: Wetlands are highly vulnerable to alien and potentially invasive species. Many wetlands have in the past been affected by the introduction of alien invasive species that have altered the biodiversity characteristics and diminished the services provided by wetlands. For example, the introduction of Nile perch nearly eliminated the indigenous fish species of Lake Victoria while water hyacinth, Salvinia sp, and Typha sp. have affected numerous.

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