Ondiri shines again during World Wetlands Day
Ondiri wetland in Kenya will host the official national World Wetlands Day
celebration on the 2nd of February. This news was received with much joy by the residents of Kikuyu Town and conservationists. For many years, Ondiri Wetland was
polluted and degraded, especially due to encroachment and greenhouse farming. But thanks to sustained and concerted efforts by the residents together with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, the conservation of this critical wetland is now being secured. Violet Matiru from Kenyan organisation Millennium Community Development Initiatives (MCDI), finds it a great honor that Ondiri was selected for the celebrations. "The cherry on the pie!"
Once you realise that 80% of Kenya is classified as arid/ semi-arid, you understand the
importance of Ondiri wetland, which is the source of Nairobi River – a tributary of Kenya's second largest river: the Athi River. "According to the elders, Ondiri was once an open lake, which the locals called Kîhenia ("Shining") because it would shine from afar", says Violet. "Now, the wetland has a floating mass of peat on which plant species grow that have adopted to wetland conditions. It provides an important carbon storage, because peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the world's forests, while they only cover 3% of the planet's surface."
Besides its carbon storage, the wetland is home to numerous birds, which are returning now that the wetland is being restored. More than 300,000 residents of Kikuyu Town rely on water from the wetland, which also recharges up to 40 springs. Violet: "Even the official residence of the President of Kenya relies on this source of water." But over the years, Ondiri shrank in size and depth as it was being over-abstracted and polluted by greenhouse farming, planting of non- native, high water-consuming Eucalyptus trees, and residential waste.
The efforts to conserve Ondiri already date back to 2008, when Millennium Community Development Initiatives (MCDI) requested the Water Resources Management Authority to help the residents surrounding Ondiri in establishing a Water Resources Users Association (WRUA). Violet: "It took quite some effort, but after numerous training and sensitisation sessions, the Ondiri, Nyongara, Kabuthi and Rungiri (ONKARU) WRUA was registered. Unfortunately, the WRUA struggled to implement its mandate due to limited funding, so concerned residents started doing community work for the conservation of the area."
These community-based initiatives – notably Friends of Ondiri Wetlands Kenya (FOWK) –proved to be very valuable for awareness-raising and mobilising people for
the conservation of the wetland. But members of the community groups realised that more coordination and collaboration through ONKARU WRUA would offer an opportunity for realising their shared goals more effectively, because it is recognised by the Kenyan government as an official institution for the management of the local water resources. Hence, FOWK organised workshops with stakeholders in the area and MCDI invited a representative of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and Ms Kiruri of the Water Resources Authority, who encouraged the residents to become a member of the WRUA so that they could effectively collaborate with the Water Resources Authority to conserve the wetland.
"This was the push that was needed", says Violet. "As a result, the various groups surrounding Ondiri are now coordinating and collaborating for the conservation of the wetlands. And the commitment of the residents to stop the continued degradation of Ondiri Wetland has borne fruits, resulting in not only its recognition by key national and country government agencies but also their support. The Kenya Forestry Research Institute for example, provided technical information on the species of trees that were suitable to plant around the wetland. And, more recently, the Water Resource Authority acted upon the concerns of the residents and placed a perimeter fence around the wetland. Also, the National Environment Management Authority recently installed an Eco-Toilet near the wetland, to serve the growing number of bird watchers and nature lovers who come to enjoy the nature trail." Through collaboration with Nature Kenya, already more than 100 bird species have been identified at the Wetland. More studies of the wetland will be undertaken, including hydrological studies to get a better understanding of the Ondiri wetland so as to further promote its protection and rehabilitation.
Ondiri Wetland in the spotlight
On February 2nd 2022, all eyes shall be on Ondiri Wetland where people will gather to
celebrate the result of the concerted efforts of a broad range of agencies and concerned citizens. The theme of the celebration will be "Wetlands Action for People and Nature". Violet: "We will show videos about the journey to conserve Ondiri Wetland and other sub-catchments within the Athi River, and we will serve organic foods grown by communities living around the Ondiri Wetland. I'm very much looking forward to it. It's unfortunate that Both ENDS cannot be present, as Both ENDS' support for networking and capacity building has been key. It provided opportunities for concerned residents and conservation-minded individuals to learn more about the relevant policies and laws that promote conservation and also to establish linkages with each other for solidarity and collective action."
Update January 10: Check out the video below made of the event for the World Wetlands Day on Wednesday 2nd February 2022.
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