Mining and agricultural activities have destroyed nearly half of Kenya’s wetlands over the past 50 years, according to two reports.
Ahead of events marking World Wetlands Day on Wednesday, a report by the National Environmental Complaints Committee found that the area of wetlands had shrunk by around 40% between 1970 and 2021.
The decline has affected the flows and flows of most rivers which have seen a reduction of more than 30%, the committee said in this year’s report on the state of Kenya’s wetlands. The lakes have also experienced dramatic fluctuations in water levels.
“Wetland quality and functions have declined significantly due to reduced vegetation cover, particularly in the major watersheds of the Mau Complex, Mount Elgon, Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya ecosystems. This has affected hydrological cycles and reduced the ability of wetlands to provide water,” said committee secretary John Chumo.
While wetlands in Kenya cover about 14,000 square kilometres, or about 3% and 4% of the earth’s surface, the area of swamps has shrunk by up to 40% over the past 50 years.
Most wetlands, according to Dr Chumo, are in key water towers which also face challenges, a situation which he says poses a double threat to wetlands.
In another report titled Action for Wetlands 2022, the conservation organization Nature Kenya highlighted the challenges faced by wetlands, including Yala, Dakatcha, Tana Delta and Rift Valley lakes and other wetlands.
The Yala Swamp, the report notes, is currently under threat from agricultural development, but is essential for filtering water entering Lake Victoria and supports local communities while protecting birds and wildlife dependent on the papyrus.
Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley, he notes, is choked with raw and industrial waste, while in Lake Naivasha new industrial developments are vying for fresh water with the lake, horticulture that it sustains and the wildlife it shelters.
Dunga Swamp in Kisumu faces sewage pollution from adjacent residential developments, encroachment and excessive and unsustainable harvesting of papyrus.
According to Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku, wetlands provide essential ecosystem services while supporting millions of communities.
“Like forests, they can act as vast ‘carbon sinks’, attracting carbon and sequestering it so that it cannot escape into our atmosphere. Much remains to be done to protect these wetlands which face massive threats,” he said.
The seasonal wetlands of Dakatcha Forest are the known breeding grounds of Clarke’s Weaver, an endangered bird found only in Kilifi County. The Kingwal Swamp in the Nandi Hills is a breeding ground for the rare Sitatunga antelope.
The Tana Delta, which is a wetland of international importance, provides environmental services, including regulation of the hydrological cycle, moderation of the climate, protection of soils against erosion, stabilization of the coastline and reduction of pollution. impact of storm surges on the coast.
The delta also contributes to the livelihoods of farming, herding and fishing communities, cultural and recreational activities, and supports the economic development of Tana River and Lamu counties and the nation.
Seasonal wetlands such as Dakatcha are particularly at risk because they appear dry for much of the year.
“They are thus converted into agricultural land, not set aside during land demarcation, and ignored in road construction and other infrastructure developments. Pressures on wetlands are largely blamed on lack of awareness and appreciation of wetland values,” according to
Nature Kenya Report. Ongoing initiatives to restore wetlands include the restoration initiative in the Tana Delta, the land use plan for Yala and the promotion of the indigenous and community conservation areas approach in Yala and the delta. from Tana.
Other important wetlands, including the Ondiri and Lorian swamps, have also been affected by unsustainable activities such as agricultural conversions, settlements and industrial development.
“While wetlands provide many ecological and socio-economic goods and services, they are often considered ‘wastelands’ and are continually being degraded and lost through conversion for agriculture, settlement and industrial development.
Wetlands have suffered degradation over the years, caused by pollution, overexploitation and destruction of watersheds, among other things,” notes the report of the National Environment Committee.
This article is reproduced here as part of the Space for Giants African Conservation Journalism programme, supported by major shareholder ESI Media, which includes Independent.co.uk. It aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.