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Wednesday, 7 August 2019

MARA DAY 2019: STAKEHOLDERS TO CELEBRATE AND REVIEW PROTECTIVE MEASURES FOR RIVER BASIN


By Jacob Mugini in Mara,

Tanzania will host Mara Day celebrations next month.
The day is marked in September 15 every year on a rotational basis between Tanzania and Kenya as part of efforts to campaign for sustainable conservation of Mara River.
The river starts in the Mau forests on the Kenyan side, and then flows through Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Serengeti National Park before emptying into Lake Victoria in Tanzania.
Thus, the trans boundary river forms an integral part of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.
Apart from supporting wildlife conservation, Mara River is also a source of livelihood to around 1.1 million Tanzanians and Kenyans.
The 10th Sectorial Council of Ministers for Lake Victoria Basin held in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in May 2012 declared every September 15 the “Mara Day.
Commemoration of the day coincides with migration of wildebeest from the world famous Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.
The river offers a crossing point for the great annual migration that attracts thousands of tourists from across the world.
Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) coordinates and facilitates the two countries marking the day each year, in partnership with USAID East Africa.
Kenya became the first country to host Mara Day in 2012 at Mulot town in Bomet County.
Tanzania’s retired Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was the guest of honour when the country hosted its first Mara Day celebrations in 2013, in the Serengeti district, Mara region. 
Reports from government officials in Mara region say that preparations for the Mara Day 2019 celebrations have already begun.
“We have started preparations for this important day and our next meeting will be on August 13,”  Serengeti District Commissioner(DC) Nurdin Babu said in an exclusive interview with Mara Online News last week.
Besides governments of the two nations, Mara Day celebrations bring together key partners working to protect and conserve the river basin.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of the key partners implementing various projects designed to protect and conserve Mara river.
One the WWF’s projects in the Mara River basin is called Fresh Water, and it seeks to improve the quantity and quality of water in the river.
Other organizations with significant contributions on protecting and conserving Serengeti- Mara ecosystem in Tanzania are the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Grumeti Fund, and Tanzania National Park( TANAPA).
Conservationists in Tanzania say Mara River is the lifeline of the annual wildebeest migration.
Local communities living around the river basin are well represented in the Mara Day celebrations each year.
The celebrations incorporate a different theme each year to campaign for sustainable conservation of the Mara River Basin.
It is seen as an important day that creates venue for the stakeholders to meet and examine preservation of the river basin.
Overgrazing contributes to harm environment in the Mara River basin (Photoby Joan Itanisa/WWF Tanzania)
This year’s celebrations will take place at a time when the river basin is still facing several challenges associated with climate change and human activities.
The challenges include deforestation, livestock keeping, sand harvesting and intensive farming activities that are not friendly to the environment. 
In April this year the level of water diminished considerably on some parts of the river with experts citing climate change and human encroachment as the major causes.
“The water level in the river dropped in the recent weeks and local communities could cross the river just by foot. One can easily view sand instead of water,” an environmental expert who is familiar with Mara River conservation issues for several years in Tanzania said in April this year.
The situation was reportedly getting worse on the Kenyan side after its media reported that   Mara River tributaries were drying up.
Thus, commemoration of the 2019 Mara Day in 2019 seems to be important than previous celebrations due to the current environmental situation in the river basin.
Mara River basin stakeholders are anticipated to deliberate on challenges facing the river basin in the next Mara Day celebrations.
A collective effort from both countries is necessary in addressing the current challenges threatening the river basin covering  about 13,750 square kilometres.

A local man explains how introduction of beekeeping helps to preserve environment   in the Mara River basin( Photo by Joan Itanisa/WWF Tanzania)
 Local communities should be sensitized to engage in income generating activities that do not harm the environment like beekeeping, horticultural farming and best practices of farming livestock activities.
Campaigning for alternative source of energy will also help to reduce massive deforestation resulting from charcoal and firewood production.
 Local communities need understand why preservation of Mara river basin is imperative for their own benefits and wildlife conservation.
Some local communities living around Mara River depend on small scale mining activities as the major source of income( Photo by Jacob Mugini)
In May this year, the Netherlands based IHE Delft Institute for Water Education conducted Environmental Flow Assessment (EFA) in the river basin on the Tanzanian side.
IHE Delft is the world’s largest international water graduate facility. Objective of the EFA was to develop Mara River water allocation plan on the Tanzanian side. 
Besides supporting wildlife conservation in the Serengeti Mara ecosystem and lives of about 1.1 million people, the presence of the river helps to enhance the existing good relations between Tanzania and Kenya, thanks to all partners  supporting initiatives meant to protect  and conserve Mara River Basin for the present and the future generations.
Experts conduct Environmental Flow Assessment (EFA) in Mara River Basin on Tanzania side in  May this year .The Netherlands based IHE Delft Institute conducted the EFA.( Photo by Lauren Zielinsnki/ IHE Delft)



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