How to open development when the Tana Basin is closing

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On 29th of September Wetlands International successfully launched a study on The Economics of Ecosystem Services of the Tana River Basin in Nairobi Kenya. The study provides evidence for development planning and water resources allocation and the valuation of ecosystem management in the Tana Basin.

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Julie Mulonga, Programme Manager for Wetlands International Kenya, speaking at the launch of the Tana Delta TEEB study

The event brought together more than 100 stakeholders from different Kenyan governmental organisations, research institutes and NGOs. The key message of the study is that if the government wants to maximally reap benefits from various interventions in the Tana Basin then they need to carefully plan water allocation by taking into account 3 key elements:

  • Nature values should be explicitly factored in water decisions
  • Water allocation should be based on an inclusive water needs assessment and done in a participatory way
  • Water allocation should use evidence from basin-wide assessments to avoid welfare losses from unintended consequences and equity issues.

This study looks into the role of the Tana Delta’s mangroves for local communities. Mr Awahd Hassan, chair of the Kipini Community Conservation Mangrove Forum, shared during the launch how mangroves provide services for their livelihoods such as fish, firewood and construction materials.  Additionally, the community values mangroves as fish nursery grounds and their role in flood protection. It was found that all these different values represent a total economic value of about 2.5 million USD per year. While at the same time it is clear that the delta’s mangrove area is continuously reducing.

At the launch Mr Geoffrey Wachira of Kenya’s Water Resource Management Authority mentioned that the Water Resources Users Associations (a mechanism to increase grass-root participation) are still not performing well and need much more capacity development. We, along with IUCN, also highlighted a new reality in Kenya for water resources allocation. As a result of devolution the Tana Basin has become a trans-county basin and county governments increasingly want to be involved to secure water for their ambitions. Water planning needs to adapt to this new governance structure.

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Tana Delta Basin

The study also includes an integrated assessment of current and future costs and benefits of developments and ”nature use”.  It shows that past developments like hydropower generation have brought monetary welfare to the basin with a high benefit/costs ratio. Contribution of additional planned interventions to welfare-building will be considerably less. This shows that the Basin’s water resources are getting scarcer and become a limiting factor in enlarging welfare. In such cases trade-offs start to develop. New economic activities seem to bring benefits when looked upon narrowly. When looked from a broader perspective they actually creating higher costs elsewhere or in the future.

Speaking at the launch UNEP’s Dr. Joakim Harlin acknowledged the importance of such studies: “Analyses such as these, where the value of environment and ecosystem services are factored in, are essential for understanding opportunities and trade-offs for sustainable management and development of the Tana River Basin. We have 14 years ahead of us to realize the vision 2030 – during these years the implementation of the Tana Catchment Management Strategy will also be undertaken. UNEP looks forward to continuing being a strategic partner in support of and in alignment of both these ambitions.”

Prior to the event a documentary on Wetlands International’s experiences in the Tana river Basin was aired on Kenya television and Julie Mulonga, Wetlands International Kenyan program director was interviewed by the same channel on the importance of the study, which is the first of its kind to be done in Kenya.

This launch took place within the framework of the Partners for Resilience, which addresses resilience aspects of large scale development investment.