Kenya Environmental Action Network (KEAN) members joined fellow youth and environmental actors to celebrate and commemorate the #WorldWetlandsDay in a glocal effort to create awareness of the importance of wetlands as crucial life-supporting ecosystems through education and outreach, which help build support for conservation and restoration efforts.
During the #WorldWetlandsDay2023 celebration at Gatharaini River, different speakers acknowledged wetlands as some of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet that are critical to various threatened and endangered species. Event participants stressed the need to protect and conserve these vital ecosystems for their critical role in regulating water flow and purifying water.
Gatharaini River green space in Githurai is a restoration project that has taken Small Axe, community members and partners almost a decade to make a reality. The action by this local community-based organisation has been driven solely by the need to make the neighbourhood safer and cleaner and provide a green space where community members can enjoy the fresh air and relax.
These efforts have been partly achieved by planting an array of indigenous and exotic trees for restoration and aesthetic value. Some, like Bamboo trees, have water purification properties and play a role in cleaning the dirty river. Despite the valiant efforts by these youth and their partners to conserve, restore, and sustainably use the resource of the Gatharaini River Riparian Park, lots of challenges are facing them. They include but are not limited to the following:
- Habitat loss and degradation: One of the biggest challenges to wetlands conservation is the loss and degradation of wetland habitats due to human activities such as urbanisation and agriculture. Gatharaini Riparian Park is facing similar challenges, especially from farmers who want to farm along the river, which is unsustainable.
- Climate change has led to unpredictable and erratic precipitation patterns and increased temperatures, affecting the functioning and thriving of the river ecosystem and other rivers in Nairobi and Kenya.
- Water pollution: Most rivers in Nairobi are often used as dumping grounds for industrial, agricultural, and human waste, resulting in significant water pollution that can harm wetland ecosystems and the species that depend on them. It is fair to say that Gatharaini river has joined the other rivers in Kenya as a dead river, with the only thriving living organisms being bacteria, viruses, insects and vegetation along the river.
- Lack of/Inadequate public awareness and understanding: Many people are unaware of the importance of wetlands or do not understand their role in maintaining a healthy environment.
In an attempt to mitigate these challenges, Small Axe, local youth and partners (Greenpeace Africa, RCE, KEAN, Ubunifu Hub, KUNEC etc.) have tried to utilise the following measures:
- Education and outreach: Increasing public awareness and understanding of the importance of wetlands through education and outreach efforts can help build support for conservation and restoration efforts.
- Restoration and conservation: Wetland restoration and conservation efforts have helped to restore the once-degraded ecosystem and protect the remaining habitat.
- Sustainable use: Implementing sustainable use practices, such as Climate Smart Agriculture and tree growing, has also helped maintain the wetland’s functioning while supporting local livelihoods. Three years ago, Small Axe established an orchard with a diverse set of indigenous and exotic fruits trees (Mango tree, PawPaw, Guava, Sugarcane and Avocado) at Gatharaini that thrived well for over a year, but farmers who are using the riparian land to produce vegetables (Sukuma Wiki, Spinach, Kandhira and Terere) destroyed the orchard as a pushback to safeguard their source of livelihood even though Kenyan Law stipulates that farming or construction activities should be done 30 metres (riparian land) from rivers, such misunderstanding and actions are still very common across the country.
- Climate-resilient wetland management: Developing and implementing wetland management practices designed to be resilient to climate change’s impacts can help maintain wetland ecosystems in the face of a changing climate.
It goes without saying that without wetlands, we would face loads of problems; habitat loss and degradation, exponential climate change and water pollution are just a few of the challenges facing wetlands. To achieve #climateresilience, we must work together through collective action and utilising a range of approaches to ensure the health and future of these critical ecosystems.