From time immemorial, there has been a debate about the Seven Wonders of the ancient World – said to be the Great Pyramids of Giza – Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus in Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Turkey, the Light House of Alexandria, and the Colossus of Rhodes. In contrast the seven wonders of the modern world are said to be the Chichén Itzá of Mexico, Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro, Great Wall of China, Machu Pichu of Peru, Petra of Jordan, Taj Mahal of India and Coliseum of Rome.
What is not in debate, however, is the eighth wonder of the World, which happens every year on the vast plains of the Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania, when thousands of wildebeest cross the Mara River in one of the most spectacular natural phenomenon the human eye can ever behold.
Tourists travel from different corners of the world to come and witness this phenomenon, which is a life line of our tourism industry and major contributor to the economies of both Kenya and Tanzania.
The Mara River Basin is of great importance to the two partner states of Kenya and Tanzania. The ecosystem is home to the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The Maasai Mara-Serengeti is a World Heritage site and a Biosphere Reserve of global conservation significance, and of great economic importance to the local communities.
I was honoured to lead the Kenyan delegation to the 4th Mara Day Celebrations in Butiama, Tanzania, on September 15, 2015. As we celebrated Mara Day, we were alive to the fact that the Mara River is facing serious environmental problems primarily created from widespread encroachment on protected forests and other fragile ecosystems for settlement and cultivation. These include soil erosion and high sediment loads; deforestation, resulting from encroachment and human settlement in the Mau Forest areas; wildlife-human conflicts, resulting from large-scale farming that has extended into wildlife corridors; declining water quality and quantity due to poor agricultural practices and excessive water abstractions; and pollution arising from unregulated wastewater discharges, especially from mining activities, poor sanitation facilities and excessive use of agro-chemicals for pest and disease control for crops and livestock. Others are increased frequency and intensity of floods and droughts due to climate variability and land use change; and uncoordinated water resources planning and management processes occasioned by the lack of a comprehensive cooperative framework for trans-boundary water resources management.
In addition to all these, our countries are recording rapid population growth indices and urbanisation. Euromonitor projects that Kenya, with a population of only 6 million at independence, which is now over 40 million, is projected to have its population at about 60 million by 2030. Being a water scarce country with a water per capita availability below the global average of 1000 – compared to Uganda and Tanzania that have a higher per capita of over 2000 – makes it even more urgent and important for Kenya to act now rather than later.
This means that over time, the per capita water availability will continue to decrease as the population increases. The challenge is to lay a foundation to comprehensively handle the population-driven transformations that are expected to lead to even higher stress on water and other natural resources in all areas.
The situation is further aggravated by the weak and poorly enforced water-related laws and regulations, and water resource management institutions with inadequate technical and financial capacity to monitor and ensure compliance with established standards and regulations.
These issues notwithstanding, the Mara Basin is endowed with natural resources which, if managed and developed sustainably, can become the engine of social and economic development. The Government of Kenya is committed to ongoing regional initiatives that are aimed at addressing these challenges. Among these efforts are developments in institutional and legal reforms. Of importance to the Mara River Basin is the just-concluded Memorandum of Understanding for the joint management of the Basin between Kenya and Tanzania, which I signed in Butiama during the 4th Mara Day celebrations.
In this regard, we must appreciate the efforts made so far by the Kenyan Government in addressing the Mau Forest resettlement and restoration programme to preserve the Mau which is the source of the Mara River. On this, we assured our concerned Tanzanian neighbours of our commitment to ensure reforestation of the Mau catchment area in partnership with the county governments of Narok and Bomet, who formed part of our delegation. As well, we are working closely with Ewaso Ng’iro South Development Authority together with the counties of Nakuru and Kericho. I am confident that the implementation of the MoU will strengthen our collaboration in the sustainable management and utilisation of our shared water resources.
As a country, we are also committed to working with all the stakeholders in ensuring that we continue to make progress on matters of catchment, conservation and protection. I call upon all partners in the Mara ecosystem, as I did in Butiama, to play their role responsibly, including availing knowledge, technical skills for environmental conservation, particularly in managing waste water and solid waste. We recognise continuing efforts by our inter-governmental institutions, such as Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Nile Basin Initiative in supporting urban waste water management, conducting feasibility studies for multi-purpose investment projects, capacity building and preparing sub-catchment management plans, among others.
As partner States we continue to appreciate the important role played by our development partners and other key players in the Mara Basin. Their collective effort has enabled us to make considerable strides in the management of our shared water resources. In order to sustain the gains, it is thus important for us to direct our national resources and focus towards defending, conserving, preserving and saving the Mara, not just for ourselves and our nation, but for the world and future generations.
I am reminded at this point of the words of Pope Francis recently: “If you sin against God, He will forgive you, and always does when you repent. If you sin against your fellow human beings some will forgive you, some will not. But if you sin against nature, she will never forgive you; she is unforgiving and she will punish you and your children and the generations to come.” Since we have sinned against nature by cutting down our trees, encroaching on our catchment areas and farming on river banks and killing our wildlife, it is time we began atoning through first stopping the destruction, and making genuine effort to undo what we can.
We went to Butiama, Tanzania, because we know the difference between the things that we can and cannot change. We cannot change the fact that God gave us Tanzania us our neighbour; we cannot change the fact that God gave water resources like the Mara River whose source is in Kenya and the rest of the river in Tanzania. We also cannot change the fact that we are confronted by serious challenges like climate change and population explosion that will affect these shared resources.
But there are things that we can change like our bad habits and wasteful use of our shared natural resources – these are things within our powers to change policywise, legislatively and administratively, hence the need of the MoU we signed as partner States of the East African community, pursuant to the East African Community treaty of 1999 and the 2003 Protocol for Sustainable Development of Lake Victoria Basin. Article 114(1) (b) provides for partner States to co-operate in the management of their natural resources for the conservation of the ecosystems and the arrest of environmental degradation.
There is destruction going on all over the world which, admittedly, we cannot police, But the Mara River Basin Ecosystem is one of the most important in the world, it is ours, and must be protected at all costs. We can and must, first as Kenyans and Tanzanians second as East Africans, defend the 8th Wonder of the World.^
Writer is the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Water and Irrigation