Nairobi 25 July 2012 - Efforts to tackle the environmental degradation of one of Kenya's most important ecosystems have received an important boost, following a two-day conference attended by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.
The Tana River - Kenya's longest - plays a vital role in the country's economy, with the basin covering around 20 per cent of Kenya's total land area.
The basin supplies 80 per cent of the drinking water for Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and about 32 per cent nationally. It is also the country's primary source of hydro-electric power through the river's many dams.
Fisheries and agriculture in the basin provide a major source of food and employment for the estimated 7 million residents that live in the greater basin area and in other parts of the country.
The river delta is also a biodiversity hotspot and is home to several endangered primate species, including the Tana red colobus and the Tana River mangabey. The habitat also supports 22 species of birds, over 40 species of fish and provides nesting sites for marine turtles.
Today, the river basin is facing a number of environmental challenges. Forests in the upper catchment are threatened as more land is allocated to farming and logging to produce timber and charcoal. Exacerbated by climate change, deforestation has had an adverse effect on water quality and quantity.
Unsustainable farming practices in the upper catchment have also led to soil erosion, pollution of the rivers by agro-chemicals and siltation of dams.
Sand mining and over abstraction of water are other key environmental challenges in the basin. Proposals for the expansion of sugar cane and biofuel crop plantations in the lower catchment have also raised concerns.
The various land use practices within the basin have led to increasing demand for water resources leading conflicts between local communities, as well as conflicts between humans and wildlife
To address these issues, organizations involved in the management of the Tana River Basin have agreed to establish the Tana Basin Coordination and Information Platform (TABCIP).
The new coordination platform is backed by over 100 organizations, including UNEP, other UN bodies, government agencies, national and international NGOs, private companies and research institutes.
It will focus on combining expertise from these different groups to identify priority issues for ensuring the health and productivity of the Tana River ecosystem.
"From fisheries and grazing land, to biodiversity and renewable energy, the economic and environmental importance of the Tana River to the communities that border it, and to Kenya as a whole, cannot be underestimated," said Jacqueline Alder, Head of the UNEP's Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Branch at the meeting.
"This new platform offers an important opportunity to streamline efforts in supporting the sustainable development of the Tana River ecosystem - in a way that meets the needs of local communities, while ensuring that the future generations will also benefit from its rich resources and valuable ecosystem services."
Journalists attending the meeting participated in a field trip to visit various parts of the Basin. In the upper catchment, they visited an area where local communities have been involved in planting trees in a previously deforested area close to the riverbank to help tackle soil erosion. The project is supported by Kenya's Water Resources Management Authority and local private companies.
The journalists also toured a sand dam that has been constructed to reduce siltation of the Masinga dam, to provide water for the local community and to enhance ground water recharge. The construction of the sand dam was financed by UNEP and plans are underway to construct three more sand dams in one of Tana River's tributaries.
Journalists were also informed of the difficulties experienced by local communities in accessing clean water.
"The people are thirsty amidst plenty," local councillor Isaac Muinde told reporters.
"We do not want relief aid. All we are asking for is assistance to bring clean water closer to our homes, to enable people to produce their own food," he added.
The Tana Basin Coordination and Information Platform will focus on promoting the sustainable allocation of the river's resources to address such challenges.
For more information, please contact:
Waiganjo Njoroge, UNEP Newsdesk on Tel. +254 723 857 270 or E-mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org