Monday, April 22, 2024

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Let all wetlands remain wet!

The Convention on Wetlands defines wetlands as ‘areas that are saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally’.  Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons, and coral reefs. There are also human-made wetlands, and these include fishponds, rice paddies and salt (Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 2021).  The World Wetlands Day has always been celebrated on February 2nd every year ever since the first Convention of its kind took place in 1971, at Ramsar, Iran.

On 2nd February 2022 the world celebrated world wetlands day.

It was during December 2007, that for the first time I got to visit Ondiri Swamp, located within the cosmopolitan town of Kikuyu. The visit took place during a weeklong children’s camp, whereby the campers were taken on an excursion to this swamp.  The air here was cooler, the ground wetter, and the vegetation greener. Apart from these natural features, it could not escape my eye, even as early as then,  there were a few cultivated plants on the edges of the swamp. But we were too young to understand the drawbacks of these kind of intrusive activities. Our inkling was to have fun, and nothing more. We traversed and trolled on the bouncy crust that seemed to be filled with water underneath. Little did we know that wetlands provide more than just recreational services. In fact, Ondiri Swamp was well on its way to become a wasteland before concerned residents raised the alarm over illegal activities taking place at the site (Zhu, 2019).

The Convention on Wetlands defines wetlands as ‘areas that are saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally’.  Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons, and coral reefs. There are also human-made wetlands, and these include fishponds, rice paddies and salt (Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 2021).  The World Wetlands Day has always been celebrated on February 2nd every year ever since the first Convention of its kind took place in 1971, at Ramsar, Iran.  Ever since then, World Wetlands Day has arisen to become an annual event with significant global attention. This year’s World Wetlands Day was special. It was for the first time being celebrated as a UN International day after being granted this status by the General Assembly on 20th August 2021.

Wetlands are more than just lands saturated with water. Apart from sequestering carbon, wetlands provide far more uses to humans, wildlife and the environment. Here is an overview of their functions (Nyman, 2011):

  • Biodiversity protection – support a great diversity of plant and animal species
  • Water storage – they hold water either on the surface or subsurface. Remember the reason behind the bouncy feel at Ondiri Swamp?
  • Recharge the groundwater sources – through seepage and percolation, wetlands replenish the groundwater systems such as aquifers and watertables.
  • Sediment retention – they slow down the flow of water, allowing sufficient time for the deposition of sediments suspended in the water.
  • Flood control – wetlands can serve as storage areas for water that has overflowed from rivers or provide a buffer against storm surge during hurricanes and abnormally high tidal events.

Apart from providing the functions listed above, wetlands are also known to connote certain values especially to the people who reside closest, and to those most fond of them. Values here can be described as the worth people feel, obtain, or attach to the wetlands in their vicinity. For example, wetlands may be considered as having cultural, spiritual, and even historical significance (Kusler, n.d) by the communities in closest proximity to them.

In Kenya, except for only one, all other wetlands that have attained international recognition from the Ramsar Convention are lakes. They are lakes Elementaita, Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo and Bogoria. Tana River Delta is the only exception to the list. But the big question is: how many more sites fit the description of wetlands in Kenya but are yet to receive similar recognition? Are they even receiving equivalent protection as the lakes listed above?

 On 2nd February 2022, senior government officials celebrated the World Wetlands Day on the swamp I had last visited over a decade ago. The swamp covers an area of 35 ha, is a source of 40 springs, and is also the second deepest wetland in Africa. The theme for this year’s World Wetlands day is, ‘Wetlands Actions for People and Nature’. Conservation measures must be increased to ensure wetlands are not degraded, or at worst disappear due to competing interests arising from population increase, agricultural expansion, and over-abstraction of water. In fact, the Global Wetland Outlook: Special report 2021 (Convention on Wetlands, 2021) records that wetlands are being degraded at a faster rate than forests—at -0.78% compared to -0.28% for forests to be precise. Yala Swamp in Western Kenya is one of such swamps facing pressures from agricultural development. Kenya has been keen on conserving wetlands, but more needs to be done.

This is unless we want to see the wetlands turn into drylands.

 

References

Convention on Wetlands. (2021). Global Wetland Outlook: Special Edition 2021. Gland, Switzerland: Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b256c78e17ba335ea89fe1f/t/61b8a904f3ceb458e9b5ca44/1639491853578/Ramsar+GWO_Special+Edition+2021%E2%80%93ENGLISH_WEB.pdf

Kusler, J. A. (n.d). Definition of the terms wetland 'function' and 'value'. Retrieved from https://www.aswm.org/pdf_lib/16_functions_6_26_06.pdf

Nyman, J. A. (2011). Ecological Functions of Wetlands. In Wetlands (pp. 115 - 128). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0551-7_6

Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. (2021). Wetlands: Key enablers for a resilient and sustainable recovery. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/28521Slovenia_Concept_Note.pdf

Zhu, A. (2019, August 14). The Return of Ondiri Swamp. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/kenya-ondiri-wetlands-nairobi-grassroots-conservation