Rural Kenyans protect wetlands to curb water scarcity.

1Wetlands – which protect people from droughtA period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Drought is a relative term, therefore any discussion in terms of precipitation deficit must refer to the particular precipitation-related activity that is under discussion. For example, shortage of ... and floodsThe overflowing of the normal confines of a stream or other body of water, or the accumulation of water over areas that are not normally submerged. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial floods, sewer floods, coastal floods, and glacial lake outburst floods ... – are suffering in Kenya’s drought

By Justus Wanzala

BUSIA, Kenya, April 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Armed with a hoe and Wellington boots, George Wandera planted bamboo seedlings in neatly dug holes along the banks of a stream on his farm that feeds a nearby lake in western Kenya.

“I’ve never tried this on my farm before but it’s the first step in protecting the stream,” he said. “Before the last downpour a few days ago, the waterClimate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass ... source had completely dried up.”

Large swathes of Kenya – including parts of Busia county where Wandera lives – are experiencing severe water shortages, which have damaged cropsA crop is any cultivated plant, fungus, or alga that is harvested for food, clothing, livestock fodder, biofuel, medicine, or other uses. and left 2.6 million people in need of aid.

The country’s wetlands too have suffered in the drought, putting at risk communities who depend on them for fishing or irrigation, and who rely on them to act as a bufferBuffer storage tanks are a simple construction keeping heat energy through insulation. from floods and drought.

“Wetlands such as lakes and floodplains act as natural safeguards against disasters, by absorbing excess rainfall during floods, with the stored water then available in times of drought,” said Julie Mulonga, programme manager at Wetlands International Kenya, a conservation charity in Busia.

During the current drought, farmers and herders have been drawing water from the wetlands, and streams feeding them have run dry.

Unpredictable rainfallRain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated—that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth. It ... is not the only reason Kenya’s wetlands are under threat. Local communities have also been draining them to grow crops, Mulonga said.

Wandera remembers when large parts of the Sio-Siteko wetland, near the border with Uganda, were drained to make way for farmland.

“We never thought our activities were harmful until we saw the consequences – that is, more floods during the rainy season and less water during the dry season, leading to a decline in vegetation and animal species,” he said.

In February, the Kenyan government launched its first wetlands management policy, to help protect the country’s wetlands.

“If well-managed, wetlands can make communities more resilient in the face of extreme weatherExtreme weather describes weather phenomena that are at the extremes of the historical distribution, especially severe or unseasonal weather. (UKCIP),” said Mulonga.

Charities like Wetlands International Kenya, with support from the government, are working with communities in Busia to protect their wetlands, while helping them develop alternatives to farming like beekeeping and eco-tourism.

They are also planting indigenous trees and bamboo, and using papyrus – a wetland plant – to make baskets and sandals.

“We need to strike a balance between the population’s needs and the need to preserve natural habitats,” said Robert Sanya, head of Eco Green, a Kenyan charity which campaigns on environmental issues.

“Bamboo for example can absorb large amounts of carbon from the air – which helps mitigate against climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ... – while its extensive network of roots prevents soil erosion, thus making it ideal to conserve the banks of rivers and streams, which feed into wetlands,” Sanya said.

Wandera said some farmers are building greenhouses to cultivate vegetables like yams.

“The greenhouses are expensive to build – at least $400,” he said.

“But they ensure the farmers can grow vegetables using less water and land, thus preventing their encroachment on wetlands,” he added. (ReportingCorporate inventory program. A program to produce annual corporate inventories that are keeping with the principles, standards, and guidance of the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. This includes all institutional, managerial, and technical arrangements made for the collection of data, ... by Justus Wanzala, editing by Zoe Tabary and Alex Whiting. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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