April 25th 2017

Society / Environment

From Mt. Kenya to Coast, millions at risk as Tana River basin faces pressure

According to the study, even though the construction of existing dams generated abundant benefits, the downstream region experienced reduced agricultural productivity and increased health complications.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 09 Oct 2016 15:57 EAT

Experts have warned that infrastructural and agricultural systems being proposed in the Tana River Basin could irreparably affect millions of people living in the region that extends from the Mt. Kenya area to the former Coast Province.

The Tana River Basin covers 22 percent of Kenya’s total land mass and is home to 18 percent of the country’s population, providing a range of ecosystem services vital for human well-being like drinking water, hydro-electric power, fisheries, agriculture and biodiversity.

According to Wetlands International, the river basin is facing a number of challenges potentially undermining these ecosystem services. The upper catchment is threatened as more land is allocated to farming while poor farming practices have also led to soil erosion and pollution of the rivers.

The building of power plants, the establishment of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme and other proposed projects, including the withdrawal of more water in the Tana catchments for Nairobi City have been seen as potential threats to the region’s ecosystem.

The research group’s assessment on the hydrology, ecology, economy, communities and stakeholders of the Tana River Basin shows that Kenya’s development projects could adversely affect the basin unless due care is taken to mitigate the consequences.

This finding is contained in a report titled "The Economics of Ecosystem Services of the Tana River Basin" that was conducted by Kenyan and Dutch experts. It was launched at the Kempinski Hotel in Nairobi last week. The report says the million acres that the government intends to put under irrigation will reduce overall water resources in the lower Tana.

To meet the deficit of 20 million bags of maize annually, the government is stepping up measures to produce maize through irrigation in the Tana Basin, and has planted close to 2,000 acres of maize in the Galana-Kulalu ‘one million acre food security project’. Nairobi also gets 80 percent of its drinking water from the basin.  Kenya’s largest high grand fall power plants are also based on the River Tana.

The study says the negative effects of high grand fall dams often outweigh the positive effects of the dams upstream. This outcome, the study says, does not however imply that high grand fall dams should not be developed but instead calls for further investigation of the extent to which alternative dam management regimes could mitigate the negative effects of high grand fall dams.

Speaking at the launch of the report last week, Wetlands International’s programme manager Julie Mulonga said the poor, in particular farmers and pastoralists, will be most affected by destruction of ecosystem.

The event was attended also by a Wetlands International officer from the Netherlands Frank Van Weert and Joakim Harlin from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

According to the study, even though the construction of existing dams generated abundant benefits, the downstream region experienced reduced agricultural productivity and increased health complications.

Ecosystems in Tana River basin includes forests, arid and semi-arid lands, mountain vegetation, fresh water and wetlands, marine and coastal areas providing a range of ecosystem goods and services.

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