PRESS RELEASE: NEMA Orders Those Encroaching into Wetlands and Adjacent Riparian Land to Vacate

8 March 2011

Contact Person:  Jacqueline Marita

                                   0206008155 / 0722725121




The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has noted with great concern the continued degradation and drainage of wetlands in Kenya. Wetlands refer to areas that are permanently, seasonally or occasionally waterlogged with fresh, saline, brackish or marine water including both natural and man made areas that support characteristic plants and animals. They include swamps, springs, dams, rivers, lakes, deltas, estuaries, mangroves among others.

Wetlands are sensitive ecosystems that provide numerous direct and indirect values to Kenyans. However wetlands have been receding at an alarming rate from about 6.8 % of Kenya’s total land mass at independence to about 2.6 % in 2010. Examples that illustrate that wetlands have been receding is that at independence there were 432 dams that existed in Nyandarua district, currently only 287 remain in a vibrant state. In Narok District, Nairagia Enkare dam is completely silted because of wheat farming around Suswa. Lake Kamnarok in Keiyo district is similarly endangered by change of land use from group ranching to individual holdings which has overburdened the ecosystem and resulted in the lake drying up. Similar cases can be cited in Kimana wetland of Kajiado which has receded due to change from group ranching to individual agricultural use. Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Kericho and Meru have wetlands that are endangered.

Importance of wetlands

Wetlands are important for the following reasons:

  1. They provide the following ecological services:

  1. Sieving up aquatic pollutants

  2. Biodiversity habitat

  3. Recharge underground water systems

  4. Help mitigate floods by regulating storm water flow overtime and increase water retention

  5. Aid in climate change adaptation: Wetlands are a key national climate change adaption strategy for Kenya by virtue of their support to flora and fauna and recharging of aquifers during dry season.

  6. Nutrient retention

  7. Storm protection

  8. Shoreline stabilization

  1. Play the following functional roles:

  1. Supply of water,

  2. Act as a fish source

  3. Serve as a source of food

  4. Provide construction material such as building poles and river beds provide clay which is used for building houses in some traditional set ups

  5. Serve as habitats instrumental in biodiversity conservation

  6. Support livelihoods in the form of agriculture and tourism

  7. Serve as religious and cultural sites that are important to communities

  8. They are instrumental in education and research

  9. Provide wood fuel

  10. Provide pasture

  11. Transport and aesthetic functions

  12. Have medicinal value

  1. Riparian areas are a key component of wetlands

Riparian areas are areas adjacent to dams, rivers, springs, streams, lakes and wetlands. The Survey Act of 1989, and Water Quality Regulations (2006) and Water Resources Management Rules (2007) define riparian land as being a minimum of 6 metres up to a maximum of 30 metres on either side of its banks from the highest water mark. This distance is based on the width of the river and the water volume at any given time. The Survey Act further prescribes setback distance for oceans as 60 meters. Riparian land plays a crucial role as a buffer zone for wetlands in terms of preventing soil erosion, and other causes of degradation.

Wetlands and riparian areas are at risk as a result of man’s uncontrolled encroachment and exploitation of wetland resources. These interfere with the biophysical environment resulting in problems such as pollution, loss of biodiversity, degradation of life support systems and global climate change. Degradation of wetlands is triggered by physical modification of the landscape, depletion of wetland biological resources through overexploitation, encroachment and settlement, wetland reclamation and conversion for change of use, overexploitation, pollution, and promotion of alien species particularly eucalyptus.

Section 60.1 (e) of the Constitution provides for the sound conservation and protection of ecologically sensitive areas in Kenya. Given the receding levels of wetlands the Director General of NEMA, in accordance to the powers conferred to him by the Environmental Action and Coordination Act (EMCA), legal notice No. 8, 1999, Section 12 has written to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands to within three (3) months revoke all land allocations in riparian areas. The Water Resources Management Authority has also been directed to peg and mark all riparian areas clearly within three month period effective from 2 March 2011.

In particular:

  1. The Chief Executive Officer Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) Eng. Philip Olum has been instructed to ensure that within three months:

  1. All wetland and riparian land is pegged, marked and secured. The following areas are to be given priority as they are the most endangered; urban wetlands, Ondiri swamp, Lake Olbollossat, Sabaki Estuary, Lake Kenyatta in Lamu and Lake Naivasha.

  1. Enforce the provisions of the Water Act (2002) to ensure that wetlands and adjacent riparian land is protected

  1. The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Lands Ms. Dorothy Angote is to revoke all land allocations in wetland areas which fall beyond the set-back lines as stipulated by the Survey Act and Water Quality regulations. Priority is to be given to urban wetlands, Ondiri swamp, Lake Olbollossat, Sabaki estuary, Lake Kenyatta in Lamu and Lake Naivasha.

  1. Provincial and District Commissioners who serve as chairmen of the environment committees in their respective areas have been instructed to mobilise the entire Provincial Administration in their region to ensure:

  1. No human activities (such as cultivation, settlements, construction, tunnelling, draining and diversion of water etc) which potentially degrade wetlands are undertaken beyond setback lines without appropriate approvals

  2. Riparian land behind the setback lines is planted with indigenous trees and other wetland vegetation

  3. No illegal dumping and other forms of pollution occur in wetlands

  4. Removal of Eucalyptus trees from riparian land

  5. Relocation of illegal settlements from wetlands and riparian land

The above measures are intended to secure wetlands health and integrity for their ecological, economic and social values.  NEMA therefore informs the public to avoid any form of encroachment or human activity in riparian areas that is a minimum of 6m is to be maintained, up to a maximum of 30m for all rivers (seasonal and perennial). All oceans and seas shall maintain a setback line of 60m measured from the highest water mark.

NEMA reiterates that all developments or programmes that are envisaged should be consistent with ecological conservation of wetlands and various other legislations in existence. NEMA recommends that such developments embrace environmental impact assessment with comprehensive mitigation measures to safeguard wetlands.


Failure to comply with the Environment Management and Coordination Act, 1999 will on conviction lead to imprisonment for a term of 24 months or a fine of Kshs. 2 millions or both as provided for in the Act.





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