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Countries across the world today celebrate World Rivers Day, a day to highlight the value of our rivers, increase public awareness, and encourage the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. This year’s celebrations come at a critical time when the scale of the global water challenge is daunting, and two thirds of the world’s population live in regions of severe water scarcity. 

Today nearly 800 million people from across the globe live without access to safe water and about 2.5bn people without access to basic sanitation. Kenya is no exception. One of the critical rivers in Kenya facing numerous challenges is the Mara River, despite its immense importance in the region.

The Mara River is one of five priority areas under the HSBC Water Programme where WWF is working to secure freshwater systems. It is the only reliable source of surface water in the Mara ecosystem, supports the livelihoods of around 1.2 million people in Kenya and Tanzania, supports economic activities in both countries, and sustains the world famous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that is known for its rich wildlife resources. The consequences of the Mara River drying are unthinkable. 

Studies have shown that if the river flow falls below 1 cubic meter per second, wildlife numbers in the ecosystem would crash irreversibly. We have had scares of the Mara River drying; the worst I remember was in February-March 2009 when the river was reduced to a trickle. During the past few decades the seasonal water variations in the Mara have changed significantly; there are now higher peaks and lower plateaus in the river flow. Catchment degradation and over abstraction (especially during the dry season) are the main culprits. Decreasing vegetation cover is causing a faster run-off of rainwater. The river is also getting clogged with sediment as a result of increased soil erosion. We have recorded sediment concentrations in the river three times the tolerable amounts. In the steep agricultural areas upstream, soil erosion levels have been recorded as high as 25 tonnes per hectare per year in erosion hotspots.   Pollution from towns, trading centers, tourist facilities, and artisanal gold miners along its course is also affecting the quality of the river.

Reclaiming our rivers calls for a multi-disciplinary approach among stakeholders and innovative thinking. Under the ethos of the HSBC Water Programme: healthy rivers, healthy business and healthy communities, WWF is working with water users, local communities, water managers and decision makers to better manage the Mara River.

Through facilitating integrated water resources management (IWRM) in the basin, we work to achieve have a perennially flowing river, with sufficient, good quality water that ensures sustainable economic development and conservation of the natural resources in the unique and important Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

Efforts to restore Mara River are on course. Key to this has been establishing and sustaining local water resources management platforms; most notably the Water Resources Users’ Associations (WRUAs), and Community Forest Associations (CFAs),. These institutions have been critical in ensuring community participation in natural resources management through participatory water and forest resources management respectively. They are increasingly taking up their important roles and mandates, ensuring that there is a win-win situation for the relevant government agencies and the communities where responsibilities and benefits in natural resources management are shared. 

In order to ensure sustainability of catchment restoration initiatives, we’ve launched the very first Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) a scheme to link upstream farmers with private sector partners who depend on the Mara River for their operations. This scheme is a flexible incentive based mechanism where a user or beneficiary of an ecosystem service provides incentives to individuals or communities whose management decisions and practices influence the provision of ecosystem services; in this case water. 

To tackle the pollution problem, we are also working with hotels and lodges in the Mara, as well as towns and trading centers to reduce pollution in the Mara River through wastewater management, with the aim of ensuring that effluent that is discharged into the River meets acceptable standards. We are also reaching out to artisanal gold miners in Tanzania to adopt appropriate technologies that reduce mercury pollution.  

In the expansive rangelands of the landscape, where water resources are being degraded through unsustainable grazing practices, and unregulated water use leading to negative effects on the local livelihoods, wildlife, and businesses, we are working with land-owners and other key stakeholders to implement sustainable rangeland management initiatives through planned grazing, increasing cattle value through availing better genetics and husbandry, determining and improving the livestock value chain, and securing water resources both in the  rivers and on land to maintain water supply with an emphasis on drought resilience. 

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals have an overarching aim to end poverty by 2030, with Goal 6 promising adequate, equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030. These ambitious goals mean that a business as usual approach won’t work, requiring governments, NGOs and the private sector to go beyond traditional ways of working to achieve change. 

The improvements that have taken root in the Mara with the support of the HSBC Water Programme over the last five years are a testament to what can be accomplished when NGOs, businesses and communities work together for transformational change.

By Kevin Gichangi, Programme Coordinator Mara River Basin.


The fisheries sector in Kenya received a major boost when President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Fisheries Management and Development Bill 2015 into a new law on Saturday the 3rd of September 2016 . The Fisheries Management and Development Act. 2016  provides for the conservation, management and development of fisheries and other aquatic resources with a view to increasing socio-economic returns to the country and the local fishing communities who depend on fisheries resources for their livelihood. The new law provides more emphasis to the development and management of marine fisheries resources as well as aquaculture.

President Kenyatta said the new law will ensure that the country’s marine resources are used for the benefit of Kenyans, especially coastal residents. “With this law in place, we are able to protect our marine resources from exploitation by other nationals at the expense of our people,” he said.

The law provides for the improved coordination of the development and management of the fisheries sector by establishing the Kenya Fisheries Service and the Advisory Council.

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One of the key components of WWF work in Kwale is to make sure that the environment is well managed and looked after. We strive to improve decision making related to the natural world. This includes making sure the public is properly involved and that these decisions are socially and environmentally responsible.

This has become increasingly important as we face rapid large-scale development projects in infrastructure, mining and agricultural. While we appreciate the critical role of these investments to development and economic growth, sound environmental and social safeguards must be promoted at all times. Otherwise, the natural systems upon which we depend will suffer.

In the case of sea sand harvesting in south coast, NEMA issued license to Chinese Roads and Bridges Company (CRBC) to remove 800,000m³ of sea sand from south coast to provide materials to build a new rail line linking Kenya to other Eastern African countries commonly known as Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. The license was issued without the project undertaking a full Environmental and Social Impacts Assessment study (ESIA).  If the project was implemented without proper studies to identify possible impacts and hence develop adequate mitigation measures, the risk of causing irreversible damage to one of the most sensitive and critical ecosystem was very high. Hundreds of fishermen were to lose fishing grounds, an important breeding ground for endangered sea turtles was threatened, while sea grasses and coral reefs would have suffered degradation. Part of Diani beach – one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – would have been eroded.

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Environmental resources are important to Kenya’s socio-economic development. They support livelihood creation, ensure food security and support a safe and clean environment.

Environmental ecosystems in Lamu County are under enormous threats mainly from increasing anthropogenic activities and proposed large scale development projects. While the populations are extracting and using resources at an accelerated and unsustainable rate from a resource base that is vulnerable and finite, others have encroached on protected areas for speculation ready to cash in on anticipated demand for these properties.

These pressures on natural resources have been manifested in vegetation removal; land and water resources degradation and pollution; logging, overfishing and degradation of fish habitats; competition for use of aquatic space; and changes in atmospheric processes, such as climate change and its consequences.

To secure sustainable management of these resources,  there is need for stakeholders to act in ways that maximize synergy and maintain a safe and productive environment. The benefits arising from the use of natural  resources should be shared equitably and made available for future generations.

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The Mara River site of the phenomenon dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the world is arguably the lifeline to the tourism industry to the great Mara River Basin. In July and August – peak season in the Mara – visitors from across the globe flock to witness the breathtaking wildebeest migration.

In this serene landscape are over 200 hotels and lodges strategically located in proximity to tributaries, some flowing into the Mara River, lifeblood of the Mara ecosystem. Situated to take advantage of the magnificent views of this location, they pose a threat to the water quality, as untreated effluent from hotels can end up in the rivers.

To sustain this ecosystem, it is important that there is sufficient water of good quality. It is for this reason that WWF-Kenya with support from the HSBC Water Programme has been working with hotels and lodges in the Mara river basin to improve their wastewater management systems.

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