The Jury has Spoken; Hope for Tana Delta and its People

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By Catherine Yaa – Kenya Wetlands Forum/ East African Wild Life Society

After a long battle since 2010, the prayers of representatives of fishermen, pastoralists, farmers and conservation groups in Tana Delta have finally been answered; the High Court ruled in their favor on a land case. On 4th February 2013, the high court ruled that land use development plans for the delta be evaluated and developed in full participation of local communities.

The communities had sued the Tana River County Council, Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Commissioner of Lands, Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) and the Attorney General as they sought to stop large-scale commercial developments in Tana Delta in the absence of a conservation development and conservation master plan.

Despite the fact that we need development, has it then become a problem? What does this mean for Kenyan communities, their livelihoods and our fragile ecosystems more so wetlands? There is a need to clearly understand that development is not the problem and no one is trying to stop it. However, there is need to undertake transparent, collaborative and accountable approaches to plan to avoid repeating past mistakes, ensuring that we uphold sustainability by respecting the rights of all stakeholders, the integrity and functionality of our ecosystems as well as the pieces of legislation that guide us nationally and internationally. Yes, as the saying goes failing to plan is planning to fail.

It’s a good thing that High Court Judge Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi understands this only too well as she sees the need to have an agency oversee the development of the Tana River Delta. As planning is an important aspect she rules that short, medium and long term land use development plans for the Tana River Delta be developed with full participation of communities, government agencies and other relevant stakeholders. She makes sure not to conclude without leaving an assignment; TARDA are requested to share their short and long term land use development plans with communities and other stakeholders within a period of 45 days. She also calls for periodic evaluations of these plans an aspect that many at times seem to have been forgotten.

As we welcome developments with open arms let us never forget to plan for them, and in a participatory manner. Yes, in Kenya today processes do matter and we better do them right not for us but for future generations.

The Tana River Delta has been designated as Kenya’s 6th Ramsar Site recognizing it for its importance, biodiversity and services it provides during the dry and wet seasons to those dependent on it for their livelihoods. The other 5 Ramsar sites include lakes; Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria and Elementaita.

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