Cows drink in a dried lake near Kipini, Kenya. Photo: Nathan Siegel / Mongabay

By Nathan Siegel
14 April 2017

(Mongabay) – Every morning, Abdu Hajy, 65, takes his canoe out into the murky waters of the Tana River Delta to fish. He’s been following the same routine, in his hometown of Kipini on the Kenyan coast, for the last four decades. But he is not sure how much longer the river can support his livelihood.

Just five years ago, Hajy says he could catch almost 90 pounds of fish a day. These days, he’s lucky to get 20 pounds. Some days, he gets nothing. On a recent morning he and his fishing partner, Michael Mwangona, 50, pulled out just three small catfish from their nets.

“It’s a big worry that we won’t be able to survive here,” Hajy said.

Hajy and Mwangona aren’t the only ones dependent on the Tana who fear for their future. Dozens of farmers and pastoralists interviewed during a recent trip to the area said that they have noted decreasing water levels and increased sediment, and their crops and pastureland have suffered as a result. However, no official studies have been done to corroborate locals’ experience.

Meanwhile, the extensive mangrove forests that abound in the Tana Delta — which were declared part of a protected site under the RAMSAR convention (an intergovernmental treaty on wetlands) in 2012 — are under threat from drought, decreasing water levels ,and pastoralists who graze their cattle in the forests. Ramsar notes that it is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa.

Local and international non-governmental organizations say that upstream development on the Tana River, including numerous hydroelectric dams, massive irrigation schemes and pipelines to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, have strained resources in the delta. An ongoing drought is compounding the problem. The Red Cross estimates 2.7 million people now need “urgent food assistance” overall in Kenya due to drought, which has been particularly harsh in coastal regions like Tana Delta.

The 620-mile Tana River is Kenya’s longest river and most important waterway. Including tributaries, it provides approximately half of the country’s electricity and 80 percent of Nairobi’s water. But many say that the Tana Delta has been excluded from conversations about development on the river and how the infrastructure projects will affect downstream populations.

“Those developing the river don’t care about us in the delta,” said Awadh Mubarak, chairman of the Kipini Community Conservation Management Forum, which manages and protects the mangrove forests along the delta and is supported by Wetlands International. “We didn’t find out about the new dam and irrigation scheme until they were already under way.” [more]

The Tana River, Kenya’s lifeblood, strains under development and drought

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