The Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP) recently held a webinar to detail the achievements and lessons learned during the three-year Sustainable Water for the Mara (SWM) pilot activity in the transboundary Mara River Basin. Home to more than a million people and world-famous wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania, the basin faces multiple risks to water security including population growth, climate change, and current livelihoods and land use practices, while water resource management institutions lack resources to fulfill their mandates.
SWP is a five-year project designed to help USAID and its partners improve water resources management and elevate water security as a critical development issue. SWM built upon USAID’s longstanding investments in promoting water security in East Africa by testing SWP’s water security improvement (WSI) framework, of which including stakeholders at all levels is a key tenet.
SWP approached this work with a host of transboundary, government, and local partners, including the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, Tanzania’s Lake Victoria Basin Water Board and Kenya’s Water Resources Authority, the Kenyan and Tanzanian ministries of water, and water user associations, as well as other stakeholders such as the USAID ATLAS project, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), and the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (NELSAP) with financial support from the German development agency GIZ.
The objective of SWM is “to safeguard adequate quantities of acceptable-quality water for human well-being, ecosystem services, livelihoods, and socio-economic development,” SWM Team Leader Gordon Mumbo said.
Using SWP’s WSI process, SWM analyzed the main water security risks in the basin, and engaged local stakeholders in planning actions to address these risks. Beginning in January 2018, SWM held workshops speaking with more than 50 stakeholders from the county, district and local institutions and private sector to review of existing assessments and worked with these stakeholders to define strategic interventions to address challenges facing the basin. Some of these interventions enacted by SWM include:
Mumbo said that stakeholder engagement helped the SWM team build trust and active participation in the WSI process. SWM Stakeholder Engagement Specialist Polycarp Ngoje and Water Resources Management Specialist Clare Haule said working with water user associations, government and partners in both countries led to prioritizing activities such as establishing indigenous tree seedling nurseries and supporting alternative livelihoods such as beekeeping. “Getting [the local stakeholders’ involvement] gave us an opportunity to look at existing scientific studies [of the basin] and translate it to practical things that they could relate to on the ground,” Ngoje said.
Annette Huber-Lee, a scientist with SWP partner the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), helped oversee SEI’s implementation of Robust Decision Support workshops to inform water evaluation and planning (WEAP) system analysis of the Mara River Basin. “The people on the ground in the Mara understand more than many of us that the climate is changing, [and] it’s going to be more uncertain in the future,” Huber-Lee said. “The spring protection, beekeeping, tree planting [are] all things we can do without regretting regardless of how climate change affects things. And having the Lake Victoria Basin Commission on board is helpful for their ability to replicate these concepts in other parts of Africa.”
Prof. Michael McClain of the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education led research commissioned by SWP to support the development of the WAP. McClain said scientists from government agencies such as the Tanzania Ministry of Water worked alongside IHE Delft’s researchers to collect data, and then took a leadership role in writing the WAP for the lower Mara River Basin, applying guidelines that will be applied to future water allocation plans for other river basins in the country. The work helped the Tanzania Ministry of Water for the first time “quantify how much water is available [in the Mara River Basin], where it’s available, and how it varies through time,” McClain said. Further, government officials “took a leadership role in writing it… so these authorities have 100 percent ownership of this document.”