Speech by Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife, Professor Wangari Maathai during the official launch of the Wetland Biodiversity Monitoring Scheme for eastern Africa at the National Museums of Kenya on 18th November 2003.



Your Excellencies - Ambassadors and High Commissioners, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,


It is indeed with great pleasure that I’m presiding over the launch of the Wetland Biodiversity Monitoring Scheme for eastern Africa. The event would have been at no other more suitable venue than at the National Museums of Kenya, one of our leading institutions in the field of Biodiversity monitoring and research


In terms of biodiversity, eastern Africa holds some of the most significant wetlands in the world. They support internationally important assemblages of plants and animals, and are a source of livelihood for many human populations.


The combined human population of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda is estimated to be about 200 million, on a landmass of about 5.6 million km2. This landmass is covered by only about 4.5% of open water with a coastline of about 5,361 km2. Wetlands cover a lesser percentage of the eastern Africa landmass compared to the coverage by open water.


Ladies and gentlemen,


Eastern Africa wetlands continue to be lost and degraded as a result of human activities. These include a range of development projects and unplanned cultivation, pollution, drainage and siltation (due to soil erosion), and the introduction of alien species. Human demographic changes, rising poverty and relatively recent climate extremes have acted as the drivers of these changes and have placed increasing pressure on wetlands and other renewable natural resources.


In this region and many countries in Africa, governments are under increasing pressure to allow further exploitation of wetland resources, and to allow development and extensive drainage of wetlands, principally for agriculture. The inappropriate use of some agrochemicals in the eastern Africa region has also been a source of problems in recent years. This, and the construction of dams have resulted in new pressures on the biodiversity of many wetland sites. This continued state of affairs is worrying and calls for systematic monitoring of biodiversity resources for appropriate action.


Eastern African governments are at the moment working on integrating their economies and environmental aspects are an important agenda to this. This integration will enhance the conservation and management of trans-boundary natural resources in the region. Some of these trans-boundary natural resources are important wetlands in respective eastern Africa countries (e.g. Lake Victoria and the Nile systems).


Ladies and gentlemen,


At this juncture, it is useful to let you know that the Kenya government enacted a framework environment legislation, popularly known as the National Environmental Management and Coordination Act more than three years ago. The Act has underscored the government’s commitment to wetlands conservation. Any development proposals likely to cause adverse impacts on wetland biodiversity, physical and social economic attributes are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment. All this is intended to ensure that wetland resources are not lost in our pursuit for development.


Ladies and gentlemen,


I am pleased to note that member countries in this Scheme are at different stages of developing national wetlands policies. Our immediate neighbour, Uganda has already developed and is implementing her wetlands policy.  The development of Kenya’s wetlands policy is now in its final stages. On this note I urge all of us to encourage and support our respective governments to develop, complete and implement their wetlands policy.


The Kenya government is particularly concerned about wetlands where ongoing development actions pose a risk or are directly contributing to environmental degradation. The government is therefore keen to see environmental management plans for specific wetlands developed as a way of ensuring wetland biodiversity conservation efforts.


In order to optimise our resources, it will be necessary to clearly identify which wetland areas need priority attention. I believe the Wetland Biodiversity Monitoring Scheme for eastern Africa will contribute much needed information that will enable eastern Africa governments to keep track of their wetland resources. This will enable us to make informed decisions in our quest to promote the wise use of wetlands.



Ladies and gentlemen,


This scheme would not have been fully realized without the kind support of our development partners who include the British Government through the Darwin Initiative for Survival of Species, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Wetlands International, Ramsar Convention, Convention on Migratory Species and African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement Secretariat, Convention on Biological Diversity and BirdLife International. We extend our sincere gratitude to all of you and assure you that these efforts will go along way towards our search for harmony between environment and development in the eastern Africa region.


I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Organising Committee for their time in preparing for today’s occasion and to the National Museums of Kenya for hosting the Scheme and for providing this venue for the launch.


Ladies and gentlemen,


With these few remarks I now declare the Wetland Biodiversity Monitoring Scheme for eastern Africa officially launched.