Threats and Challenges To Wetlands

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems due to their functions and attributes. They are essential to the well being of Kenyans as they contribute significant economic and social benefits to the country. Despite their high productivity and provision of many benefits, wetland ecosystems in Kenya are still facing serious threats including;


  1. Unsustainable use of wetland resources through; overgrazing, over cultivation, over abstraction of water for domestic use, agriculture and industrialization as well as illegal and improper fishing practices.
  2. Eutrophication which may be caused through pollution by domestic sewage, industrial effluent which choke water ways and agro-chemicals that increase nutrient levels thus causing algae blooms and fish kills.
  3. Establishment of new human and livestock settlements in wetland areas.
  4. Cutting and burning of aquatic and other vegetation for fuel, housing and commercial activities.
  5. Unplanned development activities including dam construction, coastal development, mining and quarrying.
  6. Introduction, illegally or otherwise, of non-traditional or alien species into wetlands such as water hyacinth, Nile perch, Red cray fish.
  7. Hunting and killing of wildlife within wetlands, which in turn undermines the integrity of these fragile ecosystems as food chains are destructed.
  8. Degradation of water catchment areas such as the Mau Complex, Mount Kenya, Cherengani hills, Aberdares ranges and Mount Elgon where many rivers and streams rise from that flow into the major types of wetlands in our country. The destruction of these catchment areas results into siltation and increased suspended solids and reduced water levels in rivers and lakes downstream.
  9. Lack of an operational National Wetlands Policy and cross-cutting sectoral policies in Kenya, where by government Ministries do not liaise in developing management plans on water use (Water and Irrigation, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Planning and Development, Environment and Natural Resources).
  10. Lack of management plans has exuberated wetland destruction and degradation e.g.. Lake Naivasha
  11. Limited funds, where by Wetland management institutions lack adequate and continuous funds and personnel for monitoring, management, research and community awareness
  12. Lack of community participation in management of the various wetland resources in the country.

While wetlands have the potential of contributing significantly to the socio-economic development of Kenya, they face diverse and severe threats. These threats include among others inappropriate human activities within the catchments and in the wetlands, lack of coordinated and holistic policy guidelines, and climate change. The threats have induced changes that have eroded the ecological and socio-economic values and services derived from wetlands. The underlying threat remains lack of recognition of the importance of these wetlands.

* Reclamation and Conversion of wetlands:

Drainage and reclamation of wetlands for agricultural development, human settlement and industrial development is one of the biggest threats to wetland conservation and management. In the past, wetlands have been regarded as “wastelands”, which harbour disease vectors. This has led to large-scale drainage and conversion for alternative uses without regard to ecological and socio-economic values.

* Over-exploitation of wetland goods and services:
Increasing human populations and change from subsistence to commercial exploitation of wetland resources continue to exert increasing pressures on limited wetland resources, resulting in a decline of services and quality as well as quantity of products derived from wetlands.

* Pollution, Eutrophication and Salinisation of wetlands:
The quality of many water sources in Kenya is declining as a result of municipal, agricultural and industrial wastes/ discharges. These have negatively impacted water quality and biodiversity within the wetland ecosystems thereby reducing their values. Increased nutrient loads have led to eutrophication and episodes of algal blooms in wetlands near major settlements. In certain areas excessive abstraction of fresh waters, diversions, and catchment degradation, have led to increased salinity.

* Alien Invasive Species:
Wetlands are highly vulnerable to alien and potentially invasive species. Many wetlands have in the past been affected by the introduction of alien invasive species that have altered the biodiversity characteristics and diminished the services provided by wetlands. For example, the introduction of Nile perch nearly eliminated the indigenous fish species of Lake Victoria while water hyacinth, Salvinia sp, and Typha sp. have affected numerous.



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Kenya Wetlands Forum (Secretariat) is housed at The East African Wildlife Society (EAWS).

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