Wetlands encroachment-a worrying trend that environmentalists are decrying

Counties Editor's Pick Environment Homa-Bay

Environmentalists in Homa Bay county have called for urgent measures to protect and conserve Ondago wetlands following encroachment and adverse effects of human activities.

A Homa Bay based environmentalist Willis Omullo said that the conservation of the wetlands was important for protection of bio diversity as well as climate change mitigation.

According to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), the wetlands was previously 45 hectares but has been encroached and now measures only 24.8 hectares.

A local resident, 85-year-old Eliakim Abeka said the wetland used to be a habitat to various birds’ species like waterfowls, kingfishers, wading birds, shorebirds, and cranes amongst others.

“Flamingoes would also seasonally fly from Nakuru to inhabit Ondago swampland,” he added.

Mzee Abeka said they used to get mud fish and access water for animals and domestic use from the wetland.

He said Hippos and crocodiles also inhabited the wetland which extends to Lake Simbi in Karachuonyo Constituency.

Abeka noted that the presence of the birds, especially flamingos, used to attract local and foreign tourists.

He said pollution and human activities in the wetlands have pushed the birds away from migrating in large numbers.

“Nowadays we don’t see the importance of the wetlands because we no longer get mud fish, water and tourists. The government should find ways of restoring the wetlands to its original state,” Abeka said.

The national government had classified and gazetted the Ondago wetland as a bird sanctuary because of the different bird species it used to host.

According to NEMA, the swamp was gazetted in 1997 when flamingos started migrating to the wetland.

The area used to be a green wetland covered with reeds, waterlilies and other plants. But currently Ondago is drying up due to human activities.

The surrounding communities have cultivated on the riparian areas.

Homa Bay NEMA Director Josiah Nyandoro said residents are to blame for the negative ecological changes at Ondago.

“From the onset, the defunct South Nyanza County Council had raised concerns over the threat that Ondago wetland was facing due to human activities,” Nyandoro said.

Speaking recently during this year’s world wetland day, Nyandoro warned that destruction of Ondago swamp is likely to continue unless residents change their behavior.

Some residents have encroached the land and undertaken crop production and now the wetland gets flooded and silted during the rainy season.

Ondago can no longer help families which encroached it because it doesn’t control floods.

Nyandoro said they are focusing on sensitizing the public on the importance of conserving the wetland to ensure its protection.

“The swamp is also used to purify water and preserve flora and fauna. It is no longer providing a micro climate and maintaining the water table,” he said.

He said there was a need to ensure sustainable harvesting of trees, harvesting of plants for medicinal purposes as well as subsistence farming.

Other wetlands which need to be protected in Homa Bay county include riparian lands along the shores of Lake Victoria.

“Part of the plans to restore Ondago is to do pegging to mark boundaries and keep off people who may encroach the area,” Nyandoro added.

Rachuonyo North Deputy County Commissioner Aaron Koross said the government has earmarked the area for planting indigenous trees as a way of restoring and conserving the wetland.

The exercise will be done by the NEMA in collaboration with the Homa Bay County government and National Water Harvesting Authority.

“Residents would be required to plant trees whenever they are called upon. Both the national and county government will work together to ensure the wetland is protected,” Koross said.

By Davis Langat

Leave a Reply