only seasonal wetland sites – key oases during droughts for people, livestock, and wildlife. Most of Kenya's wetlands occur in high-rainfall montane areas, the coastal strip, and the Lake Victoria watershed (Nyamweru 1991).
The Rift Valley lakes are small, shallow lakes existing in volcanic soil depressions in the rift floor. Some are saline, some freshwater, such as Naivasha, which has the most diverse wetland bird life in Kenya with about 400 species (Hartley 1985). Naivasha's freshness comes via inflow from the Malewa river, a source that is now threatened by the human diversion of water to Nakuru's agricultural grounds.
The Tana River is Kenya's longest – approximately 850 km in length and supporting a catchment area of 95,000 km2. The river's tributaries begin in the Aberdares and on Mount Kenya. Tana River delta flooding is frequent and a necessary part of its high productivity. In the permanent inland and coastal riverine lakes, aquatic plant growth is profuse, providing habitat to fish, fodder for the livestock of local farmers, and grass as an important thatching material.
Kenya has highly productive swampy areas and lakes along the coastal band and in the Tana Delta. In addition, surface runoff and groundwater feed two large lakes in the Mt. Kilimanjaro foothills: Lakes Jipe and Chala. All these coastal lakes play an important economic role in water for livestock, household use, and for fish protein. They provide good quality water as they are away from pollution sources.
Approximately 80 percent of Kenya's fragile freshwater and inland aquatic ecosystem resources are unprotected. An estimated 15 percent of all coastal wetlands and 9 percent of inland wetlands have been irretrievably degraded since the early 1990s (DGIS 1999). The KWS is the authority responsible for implementation of Kenya’s commitments to the Ramsar convention, but is understaffed and undersupported by government and donors. A wetlands policy now under development may help, but that effort will not be in force for years and thus its potential impact is not yet clear. The National Environment Management and Conservation Law – passed in February 2000 – defines and recognizes wetlands as a key ecosystem type in need of protection. The most important advance, according to Anderson Koyo and Ben Zech at KWS' Wetlands Programme, is that there is at last formal recognition of the conservation value of wetlands to Kenya. Next steps require that KWS receive enhanced authority – and financial support – to coordinate between agencies, for example, via community- and landscape-level land use planning for watersheds, including for areas extending outside of protected areas (Koyo and Zech 2000; Njuguna 1991, p. 96). Protection is a priority step because increasingly, there is a threat from population pressures, such as the need for agricultural land, and other human activities, including major threats from pesticides (Krhoda 1991), pollution, siltation, reclamation, and damming (Njuguna 1991).
The second priority, according to Koyo and Zech, is protection in some form for biodiverse wetland areas linked to the existing protected areas system, e.g., the Tana River Delta. Agreement between a variety of stakeholders needs to be achieved on the sustainable level of exploitation and the distribution of access to the resources people need. In estuaries, for example, traditional land use practices used resources but also maintained the ecological balance for millennia, whereas recent degradation is negatively impacting the system, according to a recent UNEP report (1999). Agricultural conversion is increasing rapidly in swamps, floodplains, and other low-lying water systems. Increasingly, soil erosion from upstream agricultural areas – particularly arid and semi arid areas – is becoming a problem. The Tana River, for example, is estimated to carry more than 7 million tons of sediment during flood periods (Krhoda 1991); it discharges some 3 million metric tons of sediment each year, both into the Ungwana Bay (between Malindi and Lamu) and into the Tana Delta. The Sabaki is the second longest river, also traversing extensive agricultural lands on its course to the bay, where it discharges 2 million tons of sediment per year. According to a recent UNEP (1999) report, “such a high rate of sediment discharge is threatening the sustainability of marine and coastal ecological biotopes, such as mangrove, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs.” And there are eight other seasonal rivers that also drain into the coastal region
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