February 2 is World Wetlands Day.
This should be a day of great importance to humanity considering the immense socio-cultural, economic, and ecological benefits that wetlands have within the ecosystem. Wetlands provide food to billions of people all over the world. They also soak in tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming.
According to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for “the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands in cognizance of their fundamental ecological functions as well as their economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value,” wetlands purify our water sources and act as a source of food for billions of people around the world by providing abundant fish and rice.
And, writing in the National Wetlands Newsletter (July-August 2013 edition), American conservationist and environmental law scholar at the Vermont Law School, Prof Patrick Parenteau, asserts that some economists estimate that wetlands provide ecosystem services worth some $11 trillion annually.
These services comprise of, first and foremost, provisioning services that are provided as means of sustenance to people, for example fruits, fish and rice for food, or wood for making fires and building houses.
Secondly, there are regulating services that act as a natural buffer against calamity, for example, marshes act as natural water reservoirs that soak in extra surface water run-off during heavy rains to prevent flooding.
Thirdly, wetlands provide culture enhancing services, including aesthetic, educational and recreational such as tourism, which are of significant economic and cultural value. Lastly, wetlands also provide supporting services to the ecosystem including nutrient cycling, soil formation among many others.
Wetlands are a bastion against the harmful effects of climate change. The degradation of wetlands enhances the vulnerabilities of communities to the vagaries of climate change, such as floods, drought and famine.
It is, therefore, disheartening that much of the global wetlands have often been viewed as wastelands and, as Ramsar reports on www.worldwetlandsday.org, we have lost a total of 64% of our wetlands since 1900. Efforts are, however, being made to reverse this calamitous trend, both locally and abroad.
Here in Kenya, the government has zeroed in on wetlands as a key pillar of its environmental conservation efforts. A good example is within the Lake Naivasha Basin where immense resources, both monetary and human, have been expended to ensure sustainable use of water resources and biodiversity conservation.
The blueprint for this action is the Lake Naivasha Basin Integrated Management Plan 2012-2022 (LNBIMP) that outlines “an integrated, equitable and coordinated approach to resource use within the Lake Naivasha Basin and proposes the development of joint efforts in the promotion of environmental conservation, sustainable development and improved livelihoods for stakeholders in the Basin.”
The overall purpose of the 10-year conservation master-plan is to streamline natural resource use within the basin and avoid conflicts amongst the different stakeholders who derive a living from the lake. It is based on several principles, key among them the “wise use” principle, which states that natural resource planning within the basin “should be integrated into national economic planning for sustainable development, wealth creation and environment management.”
Equally important are the polluter pays and user pays principles, which hold that the person responsible for polluting the environment pays for the cost of cleaning it up and also that those who benefit from natural resources should pay for them. This is currently taking place in the Lake Naivasha Basin where flower farms and hotels pay for the water abstracted from the lake.
Implementation of the plan as envisioned by LNBIMP will go hand in hand with the Integrated Water Resource Action Plan (IWRAP). IWRAP is the brainchild of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in conjunction with several other state and non-state institutions including the Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA), The Dutch University of Twente Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation (ITC), The Kenya Flower Council and Imarisha Naivasha.
Imarisha Naivasha is the coordinating agency within IWRAP, tasked with ensuring that all players within the Basin are acting in congruence rather than at cross-purposes. It runs a trust fund that receives funding from within and outside Kenya in support of conservation efforts within the Lake Naivasha Basin.
Formed through a Gazette notice on May 20, 2011, Imarisha is committed to achieving the four envisioned outcomes of its Sustainable Development Action Plan (SDAP), which is a five-year blue-print that will help it to achieve its goals.
One of the envisioned outcomes is to ensure the protection of Lake Naivasha and the riparian basin and management of resource use according to “wise use” principles. The second is to ensure that land use and management within the catchment contributes to sustainable development and climate change resilience.
Thirdly, Imarisha must endeavor to improve the capacity of water resource institutions and mechanisms to regulate water use and improve community access to clean water and sewerage. Last but not least, the organization should endeavor to be recognized and to function effectively as the coordinating institution for Lake Naivasha Basin restoration, wise use and sustainable development.
In efforts to achieve the first three outcomes, Imarisha has initiated over 40 community micro-projects all geared towards sustainable livelihoods within the Basin with financial support from the Government of Kenya, Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, German International Development Agency (GIZ), and the European flower retail supermarkets (Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ASDA, Rewe and Co-Ops).
One of the notable projects that Imarisha has undertaken so far includes the Lake Naivasha Water Stewardship project completed in collaboration with GIZ. The project will ensure that communities living within the basin and their livestock do not suffer from perennial droughts and water shortage.
It will also minimize human-wildlife conflicts by ensuring that humans and their livestock do not cross over to the lake thus interfering with wildlife. Similarly, Ecoagriculture Partners, a US-based organization that supports integrated landscapes management, has partnered with Imarisha to initiate a livelihoods enhancement project in the Lake Naivasha Basin.
Some US$30,000 has been earmarked for the project under the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature programme which will directly benefit the people of Naivasha and its environs. The project involves sharing of information, policy dialogues and collaboration in conservation activities. Three groups will be funded to undertake micro-community projects.
Imarisha is on course to achieving its objectives, including Outcome Four, by enhancing existing partnerships and nurturing new ones such as the one with Ecoagriculture Partners, in order to achieve sustainable development within the Lake Naivasha Basin.
As we celebrate the World Wetlands Day, such an initiative should be lauded and many more established to protect our wetlands, our environment, and life as we know it on this planet.