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Celebrating the Mara River this World Mara Day

 

Famous for the annual wildebeest migration and the lifeblood of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti ecosystem – today on World Mara Day we celebrate the great Mara River and our work to sustain it.

Wildebeest migration, Mara River, Kenya. © Martin Harvey / WWFWildebeest crossing the Mara River; up to 1.5 million wildebeest move through the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem each year. © Martin Harvey / WWF

It’s World Mara Day – a symbolic day to highlight the significance of the Mara ecosystem and the value of its rivers and wildlife. It’s an important day to help us increase public awareness of this precious freshwater resource and encourage greater stewardship of our natural environment.  This year’s celebrations come at a critical time when the scale of the global water challenge is daunting, and two thirds of the world’s population lives in regions of severe water scarcity.

Today nearly 800 million people from across the globe live without access to safe water and about 2.5 billion people without access to basic sanitation.  Kenya is no exception.  One of the critical rivers in Kenya facing numerous challenges is the Mara River, despite its immense importance in the region.

The Mara River is one of five priority areas under the HSBC Water Programme where WWF is working to secure freshwater systems. It is the only reliable source of surface water in the Mara ecosystem; supporting the livelihoods of around 1.2 million people in Kenya and Tanzania and economic activities in both countries.  The Mara River sustains the world famous Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that is known for its incredible wildlife diversity. The distribution and survival of elephants is tightly linked to the Mara River as the ecosystem is water-scarce and elephants are highly water dependent. The consequences of the Mara River drying are unthinkable.

A herd of elephants drinking. © Shutterstock / Villiers Steyn / WWF-SwedenA herd of elephants drinking; they require large amounts of water to survive. © Shutterstock / Villiers Steyn / WWF-Sweden

We have had scares of the Mara River drying; the worst I remember was in February-March 2009 when the river was reduced to a trickle. 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. Catchment degradation and over abstraction (especially during the dry season) are the main culprits.  Unsustainable agricultural activities and decreasing vegetation cover is causing faster run-off of rainwater. The river and wetland areas are being clogged with sediment because of increased soil erosion. Pollution from towns, trading centers, tourist facilities, and artisanal gold miners along its course is also affecting the quality of the river.

Reclaiming our rivers calls for a multi-disciplinary approach among stakeholders and innovative thinking.  WWF is working with water users, local communities, water managers and decision makers to better manage the Mara River.

Nancy Rono, Farmer, with Kennedy Onyango, WWF-Kenya, on Nancy's farm. Nancy Rono, farmer and single mother of three boys, is part of a scheme that provide economic incentives to reduce the impact farming has on the Mara River. © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UKNancy Rono, Farmer, with Kennedy Onyango, WWF-Kenya, on Nancy’s farm. Nancy Rono, farmer and single mother of three boys, is part of a scheme that provide economic incentives to reduce the impact farming has on the Mara River. © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UK

Through facilitating integrated water resources management in the basin, we work to achieve a perennially flowing river, with sufficient, good quality water that ensures sustainable economic development and conservation of the natural resources in the unique and important Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

Efforts to restore the river are on track.  Crucial to these efforts have been establishing and sustaining local water resources management platforms, most notably the Water Resources Users’ Associations, and Community Forest Associations. These institutions have been critical in ensuring community participation in natural resources management through participatory water and forest resources management respectively.  They are increasingly taking up their important roles and mandates, ensuring that there is a win-win situation for the relevant government agencies and the communities, where responsibilities and benefits in natural resource management are shared.

The chairperson of the local River Water Users Association with newly planted indigenous tree seedlings. The association is encouraging farmers to plant indigenous trees along the Mara riverbanks to help combat soil erosion. © Kate Holt / WWF-UKThe chairperson of the local River Water Users Association with newly planted indigenous tree seedlings. The association is encouraging farmers to plant indigenous trees along the Mara riverbanks to help combat soil erosion. © Kate Holt / WWF-UK

In order to ensure sustainability of catchment restoration initiatives, we’ve launched a scheme to link upstream farmers with private sector partners who depend on the Mara River for their operations. This scheme is a flexible incentive based mechanism where a user or beneficiary of an ecosystem service provides incentives to individuals or communities whose management decisions and practices influence the provision of ecosystem services; in this case, water.

To tackle the pollution problem, we are also working with hotels and lodges in the Mara, as well as towns and trading centers to reduce pollution in the river through wastewater management, with the aim of ensuring that effluent that is discharged into the river meets acceptable standards. We are also reaching out to artisanal gold miners in Tanzania to adopt appropriate technologies that reduce mercury pollution.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals have an overarching aim to end poverty by 2030, with Goal 6 promising adequate, equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030. These ambitious goals mean that a business as usual approach won’t work, requiring governments, NGOs and the private sector to go beyond traditional ways of working to achieve change. The improvements that have taken root in the Mara with the support of the HSBC Water Programme over the last five years are a testament to what can be accomplished when NGOs, businesses and communities work together for transformational change.

You can find out more about our work in the Mara here.

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