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Drought is biting hard on water resources in coastal Kenya.

 

“If climate change is a shark, then water is its teeth” – James P. Bruce.

 

Freshwater resources in the coastal Kenya landscape, home to over 3 million people, are under severe pressure. Climate projections, and increasingly local observations, identify that changes in the climate will stress the situation further.

Within the coastal Kenya landscape, particularly in Lamu County, severe drought in the last two years has had numerous impacts on freshwater resources, which have in turn impacted on wildlife and people.

Thankfully, the rains this year have now come. They’ve lasted for three weeks now, and whilst the flash floods they’ve brought bring their own challenges, water resources are being recharged. Lake Kenyatta – at least for the time being – is restored and the streams are flowing.

Flash floods flowing to Lake Kenyatta. © J.Bett WWFFlash floods flowing to Lake Kenyatta. © J.Bett WWF

But there’s no room for complacency. This problem isn’t going to go away.

The main economic activities in Lamu County are fishing, agriculture, keeping livestock and tourism. During periods of drought, we’ve seen major water sources dry up which is impacting the livelihoods of both farmers and fisherfolk. Even reliable water sources, like Lake Kenyatta, have been disappearing.

Food insecurity is  a major challenge.

Reducing water resources mean that food insecurity is a major challenge. The carcasses of livestock are scattered all over local ranches. Harvests have also been poor. This year, for example, failed harvests have meant that Kenya is facing a maize shortage. Many families are relying on relief food for survival.

Migration has also increased as communities move further afield to reach remaining water sources. In and around Lake Kenyatta, an influx of migrant livestock keepers and hundreds of their stock resulted in increased siltation of the lake (when increased soil and organic waste accumulates in the water) which accelerates the loss of available water.

Wildlife is impacted too.

Hippopotamus female and calf submerged in lily covered pool (Hippopotamus amphibius), Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. The hippo is just one victim of recent droughts in Coastal Kenya.Hippos, like these in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, are succumbing to ongoing drought in Coastal Kenya. ©naturepl.com, AnupShah, WWF.

Several species of bird are struggling and many of the hippos have succumbed to ongoing drought. Conflict between human activity and wildlife has also increased as competition for limited water resources has intensified. In some cases, communities are even forced to look for pasture and water in protected areas.

The impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems are projected to increase. So we cannot assume that the water sources we’re used to seeing will be there in the future. This is why WWF has incorporated climate change adaptation and mitigation work into its conservation programs in Kenya.

We’re working hard to make sure that every community we work with has the skills to adapt to the new challenges that they are facing as a result of changes in the climate. For example, we’re providing farmers with training to ensure that the farming methods they use are ‘climate-smart’ – helping them to choose crop types and farming methods that are resilient to current and future changes in the climate.

But building ecosystems and economies that are resilient to future changes in climate requires more than this. It requires governments, communities, companies, and other key factors to work together. So we continue to build strong partnerships that will allow us to tackle the ‘shark’ head on.

Join us in mitigating the effects of climate change!

This work is part of WWF’s Coastal Kenya Programme, which is gratefully supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and Size of Wales.

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