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endowments include the Rift Valley soda lakes, frequented by an estimated 80 percent of the world's flamingoes, seasonal swamps and lakes that provide life-giving water for hundreds of charismatic wildlife species and livestock in dry periods, and intact coral reefs rare along East Africa's coastline.  In addition, the country lies at a key point for migrating bird flocks, both Eurasian and tropical species all dependent on existing water systems.  

Some of Kenya's water systems have been noted on an international level for their importance. Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha have been recognized as globally significant wetlands through the Ramsar Convention; in fact, the Lake Naivasha Riverine Commission won the Ramsar award in 1999 for the participatory and comprehensive nature of its management plan.  Distinct, measurable improvements have been documented in the biophysical health of the lake ecosystem (Koyo 2000).  At least 17 other potential Ramsar sites have been identified by the Government of Kenya (1990).  The four most likely to be nominated include the Mzima Springs in Tsavo West National Park, the Tana River Primate National Reserve, the dry-season swamps of Lake Amboseli, and the Lake Bogoria area (Ole Nkako 1991).

Kenya's coast is important on an international level as well. Its protected areas encompass regionally important breeding grounds for migratory seabirds, marine mammals, and turtles.

Local importance.  Aquatic resources have been a vital component of human existence in Kenya for millennia; in addition to water for domestic use, these ecosystems provide key materials for food, agricultural subsistence, cultural traditions, grazing, and many other products.  They are vital components of the hydrological cycle, regulating runoff, collecting pollutants and wastes, trapping silt, and recharging ground water.  They provide essential breeding and feeding habitats for many fish, birds, and other wildlife. The water systems’ location and periodicity strongly determine the spread and vitality of the country's diverse biological resources.  For example, about 25 percent of Kenya's bird life is dependent on wetland habitat for survival (Gichuki and Gichuki 1991).  Wildlife migrations are driven in large part by their search for water.  Human settlement in a largely arid country is also determined by access to water, as illustrated by the importance of seasonal wetlands to pastoralists’ herds and to smallholder farming.

Kenya's wetland grasses have long been harvested as fodder for milk cows and its sedges for thatching.  Other wetland-based activities include honey gathering; collection of wetland plants for food, shelter, medicine, and baskets and traps; collecting clay for building and pottery; hunting; and as sites for ceremonial purposes.  

Coral reefs and wetlands harbor a vital source of food for the Kenyan and other East African populations, and provide an important source of fishing income to local people.  See Table 4.  They also provide a potentially lucrative source of tourism revenue for commercial and community-level operators.  

Table 4.  Kenya marine and freshwater data


Avg. annual marine catch

Avg. annual freshwater catch

Per capita annual food supply from fish/seafood


Up 86 % since 1983-85

Up 112 % since 1983-85

Up 12.4 % since 1983-85


Up 68 % since 1983-85

Down 21 % since 1983-85

Down 8.5% since 1983-85

Western Indian Ocean

Up 59 % since 1983-85



(Source: adapted from World Resources 1998-1999, pp. 314-316).

General facts: Freshwater and other inland aquatic resources.  Kenya is endowed with a wide range of wetland types, including tidal swamps, estuaries, mudflats, floodplains, seasonal and dryland depressions, lakeshore and riverine wetlands, and lakes.  Wetlands cover less than 3 percent of the country’s land area.  Spatial distribution is uneven, leaving vast dryland areas with

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