2nd Annual ‘Mara Day’ to raise awareness of degradation of Mara River basin ecosystem

On September 15th, stakeholders from Kenya, Tanzania and surrounding communities will come together to celebrate Mara Day to focus on the health of the Mara River. Informative activities and presentations aim to foster discussions on water quality, pollution, deforestation, drought and other environmental and social challenges facing the MRB and its sustainable development.

More than 1.1 million people live in the MRB and a wealth of flora and fauna depend on its resources. It’s no coincidence the event takes place during the famous wildebeest migration in which the perennial Mara River becomes the destination for the world’s largest mammal migration of almost 2 million wildebeest and zebra. For more information about Mara Day: http://allafrica.com/stories/201307261515.html?viewall=1

The Mara River would seem to be pristine and unfettered as it runs from Kenya's highlands to Tanzania's Lake Victoria shores...
The Mara River would seem to be pristine and unfettered as it runs from Kenya’s highlands to Tanzania’s Lake Victoria shores…

But its very critical source, The Mau Forest in Kenya, has been suffering devastation for years as industry – and local people needing wood – have cut down this forest.  The forest’s retention of water during the seasons of heavy rains plays a crucial role to the entire watershed.

The Mara River, fed by waters from the Mau Forest, nurtures iconic plains species that bring lucrative tourism and jobs; commercial and subsistence farmers; fisherman; and the ecosystems of its Lake Victoria terminus.

And perhaps most important, the Mara supplies drinking water to its inhabitants and their livestock, yet it can no longer be guaranteed to be clean, healthy water.

In NWNL’s expedition covering the length of the Mara River and in our interviews with many stakeholders and stewards en route, it became clear that education is the key.  Those who live in the Basin now must learn the upstream-downstream consequences of their water and forest usage, and why it is critical for tomorrow and future tomorrows to adjust their habits and practices to ensure the sustainability of livestock, flora, fauna and their own communities.

View NWNL’s video “The Mau Forest, Source of the Mara River” from the 2009 MRB expedition here.

NWNL Honored; and a Reforestation Debate

This month the International League of Conservation Photographers has recognized me as their “Photographer of the Month.”  Having been an ILCP Fellow since 2007, I appreciate this honor, especially as it helps NWNL raise awareness of freshwater issues.  The timing of this publicity also coincides with national interest on the Mississippi River Flood, problematic pollution of our water supplies from fracking, and American Rivers’ announcement this week of 2011’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers.

Back to my ongoing NWNL research, I just read an article on the balance between honoring indigenous cultures versus protecting our forests which are critical headwater sources of our rivers. The Mau Forest, Kenya’s source for the Mara River, is cited in this discussion modifications needed by REDD and other proposed solutions.  However, there is an important point that is NOT made:  If forests are not conserved, indigenous people will suffer just as much as everyone else when water reservoirs are emptied by deforestation, climate change droughts and increased severity of weather events.

NWNL interviews in 2009 with the Ogiek in the Mau Forest and with UNEP officials in Nairobi indicate that everyone must leave our headwater forests, but that sufficient compensation – especially to the indigenous communities – must and will be part of an orderly and fair evacuation of this terribly degraded water tower.  Our NWNL Mara River video interview with an Ogiek farmer was taped during a punishing 3-year drought, when he agreed everyone must leave, but they need funds with which to start over.

Also complicating the issue, many Ogiek have married outside their community making it difficult to determine who is Ogiek and who is an imposter trying to cash in.  Furthermore, the Ogiek culture these days is much less based on a sustainable lifestyle in the woods as honey-gatherers.  Today, most are farmers logging trees to plant crops.  The plan developed by the UN is to move the Ogiek just outside the forest boundaries, giving them permission to enter the forest for their traditional ceremonies and honey-gathering.  This seems to be a carefully-thought-out balance to an environmental crisis exacerbated by climate change and demanding a solution.

Do be in touch if you have any questions or insights that would further No Water No Life’s work!

Funding the Mara River Expedition

Hippos 

For No Water No Life’s first blog, I am diving in with our project’s current challenge: EXPEDITION FUNDING! NWNL’s research, documentation and publications are based on its expeditions to North American and African case-study watersheds. By comparing approaches to freshwater issues and solutions in developed versus developing nations, NWNL distinguishes itself from most other organizations.

Mau Forest 

THE MARA RIVER EXPEDITION: In mid-September, a “lean and mean” NWNL team will head to Kenya and Tanzania to follow the length of the Mara River for one month. An award-winning video photographer and I, as leader and still photographer, will film the devastatingly-low, polluted Mara River. We will document issues from its headwaters in Kenya’s deforested Mau Forest – a critical key to the famine now facing 10 million Kenyans – to its outlet on the polluted Tanzanian shores of Lake Victoria creating “dead zones.” (For details: Mara River Expedition ’09.)

Wildebeest 

WHY $$ NEEDED: NWNL is seeking the final funding needed for travel and production expenses . The expedition products to be covered by $4,000 we still need (can be tax-deductible) and the $15,000 we’ve already received will alert Kenyans, students and conservationists world-wide of the perils facing the Mara River today. The loss of the watershed’s wildlife due to low water will impact fiscal and political stability in the Horn of Africa, a “hot spot” for terrorism. Email me at alison at nowater-nolife.org to discuss donation details.

PROJECT SUCCESSES! With images from 3 expeditions to Ethiopia’s Omo River, NWNL has joined in an international effort to halt upstream dams threatening .5 million stakeholders downstream. After 2 expeditions to the Columbia River Basin, NWNL has promoted US-Canadian trans-boundary research and partnerships. NWNL’s successes are being covered in magazines, its imagery is receiving awards, the project is receiving high praise for its lectures and exhibits.

MARA EXPEDITION SUPPORT: This will be NWNL’s 10th watershed expedition. This expedition has received:

  1. Expedition flags from The Explorers Club and WINGS WorldQuest
  2. Endorsements from International Rivers, Global Information Network, et al
  3. Several generous grants
  4. Hefty in-kind contributions, worth six times the cash raised.

Kenyan conservationists are anxious for NWNL to publicize the degradation of the Mara River, saying international awareness is essential to create an East African political will to protect this critical watershed.

NEXT!!  This expedition WILL happen. Tickets are booked for myself and the videographer – another Alison!   Stay tuned to read upcoming blogs about the Mara that illustrate global fresh-water values, threats and solutions being explored today!