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Increasing conflicts due to poor wetland management


All over the world, conflicts between groups of people are arising due to poor planning of wetlands and their water resources. This concludes the global NGO Wetlands International in its report ‘Planting trees to eat fish’ after investigating many wetland sites in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

-          In Kimana, Southern Kenya near Mount Kilimanjaro, indigenous nomadic Maasai tribes are facing a direct threat to their existence. The wetlands where their cattle used to feed are more and more occupied by new farmers and by a fenced national park (photo: Amboseli national park). Streams dry up due to irrigation of farm lands; a large share of the available water is diverted to the capital Nairobi. Conflicts between nomads and farmers have already happened with Maasai warriors destroying farmers’ irrigation channels.

-          In Mali, the balance in the Inner Niger Delta between tribes of pastoralists (Peul tribe), fishermen (Bozo) and farmers (Marka, Bambara and Rimaibe) is gravely disturbed since upstream dams reduce the area of temporary inundated grazing lands. Increased evaporation due to a changing climate is creating additional stress. More and more pastoralists and fishermen are forced into a sedentary farm life, competing for land and resources.

-          In Zambia and Malawi, large scale tobacco farming is pushing farmers into the fragile commonly owned dambos; grassy wetlands in valleys and along rivers. The intense use of these dambos and the cutting of uphill forest are causing rapid erosion and depletion of ground water. This turns these last resorts for the local poor turn into dry and eroded wastelands. 

Increased dependence on fragile ecosystems

In Southern countries, more and more people depend directly on the water, fuel and food coming from often fragile ecosystems. Continents like Africa will suffer strongly from the impacts of climate change. Increased temperatures and unpredictable rainfall lead to increased water stress. Many disturbing developments worsen this stress and competition. Hydropower dams, water use for irrigation or urban water needs all increase the stress and competition between communities that used to live in harmony.


Marcel Silvius, Programme Manager Wetlands and Livelihoods:

“Especially in countries in the South, people depend directly on their natural environment. The rapidly increasing stress on natural resources requires an urgent response that involves local communities in the development of plans for the management and use of natural resources like water, land and firewood to prevent conflicts.” 

Conflict prevention through wetland management

The global NGO Wetlands International worked in all the above mentioned regions (photo: Zambia) with local NGOs and community organisations to develop agreements on the use of wetlands and water resources. The organisation also advised on improved fishing and agricultural techniques to reduce the stress on the wetlands and water resources, thus contributing to poverty alleviation and conflict resolution.

Wetlands International calls for governments in the North and South to support the improvement of wetland and water planning policies.


Read the report: “Planting trees to eat fish - Experiences in wetlands and poverty reduction


For more information:

Alex Kaat

Communications Manager

Wetlands International

+31 (0)318 660912

+31 (0)6 50601917


Press contact

Communications and Advocacy Department