Mara River Basin Management Initiative (Kenya and Tanzania)

Posted on December, 17 2003

Updated factsheet for the Mara River Project
The Mara River has its source in the South Western Mau forests of Kenya draining into Lake Victoria at Musoma in Tanzania. The Mara River Basin is about 13,750 km2, of which 65 per cent is located in Kenya and 35 per cent in Tanzania. The River runs through the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the latter being a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. Both the Mara and Serengeti are of global conservation significance, and great economic importance at the local, national and regional levels. 
Users of the Mara River Basin are increasingly faced with water shortages, poor water quality and environmental degradation. The management of the Mara River is therefore critical to poverty alleviation, improving health and food security. It is also critical for sustainable economic development and for the conservation of the natural resources in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
The key threats to the Mara River Basin include loss of forest cover in the upper catchment and along river tributaries, unsustainable agricultural expansion and intensification, including irrigation. Population growth, poorly planned tourist facilities, water pollution and unregulated water abstraction by urban settlements, large-scale commercial farming, industrial activities coupled with failures of local, national and regional legislation and institutional structures are also aggravating the situation.

The overall objective of the Mara River Basin Initiative is to facilitate catchment management to ensures adequate water supply of sufficient quality for both human and ecosystem needs.
The initiative is facilitating adoption of the integrated river basin management (IRBM) approach as a means of ensuring the Mara’s waters are sustainably and equitably used and conserved.  Bringing together the stakeholders to jointly decide on how best to apportion, use, manage and conserve water and other natural resources in the river basin is the approach being used.
Duration: 3 years; 2003 to 2005
Funding Status: Funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and WWF-Norway, DGIS Living Water Campaign
Operating Budget: USD 346,120 for 2004
Executing Agency: WWF-EARPO 

§         Stakeholders using the river in Kenya have formed a water users’ association, the Mara River Water Users Association, which will ensure efficient and sustainable use of water.
§         Dialogue between stakeholders in Kenya and Tanzania initiated to lay out long-term management plans for the river.
§         The project is facilitating development of a domestic waste management strategy for the Bomet Town Council, Kenya.
§         Promoting principles of sustainable agriculture among smallholder farmers in Kenya’s Narok district.
Dialogue with the Masai-owned group ranches in order to promote appropriate range management principles and improved revenue management
The future of the Mara River, the multi-billion tourism industry in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the multi-million wheat and maize farming activities, the ever-growing livestock enterprise of the Maasai all depend on the management of forests (SW Mau) at the source of the river. Unfortunately, a great chunk of these have been degazetted and allocated for human settlements. New settlers are clearing the forests at an alarming rate reducing the river flow, increasing erosion and siltation as well as flush floods downstream. Unless some urgent dramatic action is taken to protect and restore the destroyed river catchment, all the efforts to sustainable manage and use the river will yield naught.
The survival of the Mara River and that of its users was recently threatened by a plan by the Kenya Government’s plan to diverse water from the Mara’s Amalo tributary to another river for purposes of hydro-power generation. Strong protest from Tanzania effectively grounded the plans.

There is urgent need to engage the government to solve the threat at the source of the river, where people have settled and are clearing forests to farm. The source of the Mara River is greatly at risk. The government has to find alternative areas to settle the landless and conserve the country’s few remaining sources of water. The solution lies in developing a land use policy for the country.
Doris Ombara, Project Executant
P. O. Box 447, Narok, Kenya
Tel :  +254 050 23444     
E-mail :

Zebras cross the Mara River into Kenya in the annual migration that is characterised by the movement of millions of wildebeest
© WWF-EARPO/Catherine Mgendi
Mara River project leader Doris Ombara (in white T-shirt) mobilises communities at the market; WWF-EARPO/Sam Kanyamibwa
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem relies on Mara River to sustain its stunning wildlife, and many other socioecomonic activities in Kenya and Tanzania; WWF-EARPO
The Mara River flowing from its source, the South West Mau Forests in Kenya.
The Mara River flowing from its source, the South West Mau Forests in Kenya.
© WWF-EARPO / Sam Kanyamibwa