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Kenya projects ensure water security while protecting vital ecosystems

December 3, 2019

In prosperous countries, it’s easy to take physical and economic security for granted. But for people in much of the developing world, these things are precarious. Overfishing depletes food supplies and stifles economic opportunity for growing populations, jeopardizing people’s livelihoods. Climate change leads to droughts and storms of increasing frequency and severity. Among the results: forced migration, conflict, and the destruction of cultures.

In East Africa’s rural island villages, Seacology is a long-standing partner in ensuring that communities’ essential needs are met. For more than a decade, we’ve worked with coastal villages, particularly in Kenya, to increase water and food security. In bolstering access to clean water and food, and supporting sustainable economic activities, Seacology is helping local communities safeguard the environment that surrounds them.

Providing a basic level of physical and economic security is inextricably linked to conservation. This is a lesson that Dishon Murage, Seacology field representative for East Africa, learned from “Professor” Ali Shaibu Shekue, the 2014 Seacology Prize winner and an environmental leader on several of the Kenyan Islands where we have projects.

“Conservation in the midst of poverty can not work,” says Murage, reflecting on his friendship with Shekue, who passed away in 2015. “Communities that derive their livelihoods from natural resources do not have a desire to destroy the resource they depend on. When you come across a community that is taking a resource to an extent that it’s being degraded, it’s usually driven by poverty.”

Seacology’s long partnership with the people of Wasini Island is a perfect example. In 2008, the island, off Kenya’s southern coast, became the site of our first project in the country, and we’ve maintained a relationship with the community there since. In that original project, we funded a large cistern to capture and store rainwater for the largest village there, also named Wasini. We also provided money to repair existing water storage facilities, and have since upgraded this infrastructure several times. With no groundwater available on the island, the community had previously been forced to use its limited financial resources to import expensive water from the mainland. With a storage capacity, those resources were freed up to help develop the local economy.

Part of the island’s economy includes a growing ecotourism industry. As part of the Seacology project, Wasini is protecting more than 1,200 acres of mangroves outside the village. This stunningly gorgeous wetland features a long boardwalk, for which Seacology provided some repair funding in 2009. The path is an ideal spot for hiking and birdwatching, and the mangroves provide a nursery for millions of fish that populate the clear waters around the island, strengthening its fisheries and attracting visitors. Local merchants sell handmade jewelry and other items along the path, and many visitors now frequent the village’s restaurants and guest houses.

Seacology’s most recent project in Kenya aims to replicate this success. Giriama Island sits in a complex estuary system near the town of Mareneni, in an area that is recovering from years of damage caused by industrial pollution. Salt-production facilities were dumping high-salinity brine back into the coastal environment, contaminating groundwater and killing the mangroves that surround the island. Thanks to organized opposition from the local people, this practice was stopped by a court order.

Seacology began working this year with the local Beach Management Unit (or BMU, the local groups authorized by the national government to manage marine resources) to replant mangroves in the estuary, and funded the construction of a rainwater cistern similar to Wasini’s. As in Wasini, this will make the villagers less reliant on buying and transporting water from the mainland, currently a major burden. The project also funded equipment for the BMU, helping them ensure that the area’s fisheries are responsibly managed and monitored. The project is just getting underway, but the new mangroves are already growing well. The land for the cistern has been purchased and construction began recently.

In Kenya, natural resources are governed by a complicated, interlinking system of local and national entities, but local communities enjoy a lot of autonomy. Murage is proud to report that the BMUs Seacology has partnered with have all produced revenue for their communities, and that local leaders take conservation very seriously. With nearly 20 successful projects in East Africa, we’re proud of Seacology’s record in the region, and aim to build on this success for years to come.

Check out our interview with Dishon, discussing our work in the region here.