Sunday, 15 September is world Mara Day, celebrating the Mara River and the world renowned Mara landscape. This year’s theme focuses on the river’s health which is especially poignant at a time when these landscapes and rivers are under ever-growing pressure.
The Mara River begins in the Mau Forest in Kenya. It then travels through the world-famous Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania before emptying into Lake Victoria – passing through areas of high human population densities on the way.
During the past few decades the seasonal water variations in the Mara have changed significantly. There are now higher peaks and lower plateaus in the river flow than ever before. There is a real danger that the river will dry up if nothing is done to restore and protect its catchment area and manage the water effectively.
The environmental, social and economic consequences of the Mara River drying would be catastrophic, impacting the iconic wildebeest migration and the 1 million people who directly or indirectly depend on it.
The Mara region contributes 10% to Kenya’s GDP from tourism and agriculture. If the river fails, the region will too.
Across east Africa there is change under foot as competition for resources drives development that opens up some of the remotest landscapes in the world. The Mara is no exception. Unchecked this development can result in the destruction of the ecosystem.
We are working with local government to help ensure that the value of the ecosystem is realised.
We are tackling this issue at a number of levels. Our work with farmers helps to manage water use and ensure that river banks are protected. Elsewhere we’re working with hotels to reduce the risk of pollution to the river.
Ensuring the long term security of the Mara depends on communities, business and governments having a shared vision.
We are working with partners to achieve this vision and create an economic pathway which is based on the sustainable use of the region’s rich and natural resources.
Last year WWF-UK launched the HSBC Water Programme – a five year partnership that aims to protect five freshwater environments – maintaining healthy flowing rivers that are better managed by business and local communities.
September 15 of each year was chosen as Mara Day to coincide with the famous wildebeest migration. This day also provides us a useful opportunity to reflect on the role of water and other natural resources in securing our heritage in special places like the Mara.