Communities living at the Tana River Delta have a reason to smile again, after the High Court awarded them a historic win in a land case.
High Court Judge Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi noted that there was need to have one agency to oversee the development of the Tana River Delta. Judge Ngugi ruled that the short, medium and long range land use development plans for the Tana River Delta will have to be developed with full participation of the communities as well as government agencies and other stakeholders with an interest in the area.
TARDA (the Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority), one of the respondents to the suit, was requested to share its short and long term land use development plans with communities and stakeholders. The judge also called for periodic evaluations of the plans.
In August 2010, representatives of farmers, fishermen, pastoralists and conservation groups in the Tana Delta went to court seeking to halt large-scale commercial developments in the Tana Delta until a master plan was in place. The communities sued the Attorney General, National Environment Management Authority, Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority, Tana River County Council, Commissioner of Lands and Water Resources Management Authority.
“The essence of the case is not to stop or deny development, but to have the Government agencies undertake a responsible, transparent and collaborative approach to planning in order to avoid the disasters of the past, whilst ensuring that all the Millennium Development Goals are achieved within a sustainable living framework that respects the rights of all stakeholders, indigenous peoples and wildlife“, says Ms. Serah Munguti, the Advocacy Manager of Nature Kenya, a environmental conservation organization advocating for the conservation of the Tana Delta.
The Delta is home to more than 100,000 people, who are mostly fishermen, herdsmen and farmers. The landscape is a vast patchwork of habitats including savannah, forests, grasslands, wetlands, beaches, lakes, mangrove swamps and the Tana River itself
Poverty and environmental destruction
Even though rainfall is unreliable and soils are sandy and prone to seawater intrusion, the Delta is viewed as fertile and provides the resources on which the local communities rely on for their livelihoods. However more than half a dozen companies are poised to try and reap its potential riches. The developers claim that they will reduce poverty in the Delta. However all large scale projects that have been attempted in the Tana Delta in the last half century have failed, and many of them left a trail of poverty and environmental destruction.
This list of developers shows that there is a true scramble for the Tana Delta, with no clarity in land allocation and no central decision making and management for development. The rush for riches leads to the rights of the local people being ignored.
“This scramble, allied to a growing local population and the impacts of climate change, such as more frequent droughts, has led to the recent tragic conflicts between local communities faced with a growing scarcity of resources” says Mr Michael Gachanja, Executive Director of the East African Wild Life Society. The Society are partnering Nature Kenya in the advocacy of the conservation and sustainable management of the Tana Delta.
In October 2012 the Tana Delta was designated Kenya’s newest Ramsar site. In addition to being an internationally important area for birds and wildlife, the Tana Delta is vital for the herders who depend on the water and grasslands during the dry season, the farmers who cultivate rice, mangoes and other crops and the fishermen who fish from its lakes and watercourses. The Delta is designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, Key Biodiversity Area by Conservation International and it is one of Kenya’s Endemic Bird Areas.
Nature Kenya and the East African Wild Life Society have worked with communities for six years to promote ecological sustainability in the Tana Delta and collaborated with the Kenya Red Cross to help the victims of the recent clashes experienced in the area. This partnership is also supporting the efforts of the Office of the Prime Minister together with other state agencies and ministries to develop a multiple land use plan for the Tana delta.
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