Society

Lake Ondiri rises again

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Ondiri Swamp in Kikuyu, Kiambu county. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Ondiri wetland is a swamp with bog-like characteristics covering an area of approximately 30 hactares and is two to three metres deep with a perimeter of 3.3 kilometres.
  • The swamp is located in Kikuyu division, Kiambu County. It lies at 2,000 metres above sea level.
  • Before the arrival of the white man, Kihenia, as the swamp was then known by the Kikuyu people, was a popular watering ground for their cattle and those of their Maasai neighbours.

Last week on Friday, I was invited to a breakfast meeting in Kikuyu by the Friends of Ondiri Wetland. The meeting had been called to celebrate the progress the organisation has achieved, since its formation five years ago, in restoring Ondiri Swamp.

This was my third visit to the swamp since May last year, but I have been familiar with the swamp since 1964, having gone to school in the neighbouring Thogoto Junior School and Alliance High School.

It was one of my favourite nature trails and I particularly enjoyed the dizzying experience of the quaking bog.

Ondiri wetland is a swamp with bog-like characteristics covering an area of approximately 30 hactares and is two to three metres deep with a perimeter of 3.3 kilometres. The swamp is located in Kikuyu division, Kiambu County. It lies at 2,000 metres above sea level.

Before the arrival of the white man, Kihenia, as the swamp was then known by the Kikuyu people, was a popular watering ground for their cattle and those of their Maasai neighbours.

Today, it is an important source of water for Nairobi and is the headwaters of Nairobi River and eventually the Athi River system. Locally, it provides water for domestic consumption, irrigation and livestock via numerous boreholes.

Ondiri swamp also provides a habitat for more than 70 species of resident and migratory birds as well as aquatic plants.

With the rapid growth of Kikuyu town and its environs, Ondiri swamp began to experience severe environmental degradation with greenhouses abstracting large quantities of water and factories discharging harmful chemicals into the swamp, while commercial exhausters were emptying raw sewage into the water body and other people over-harvesting fodder for cattle.

Friends of Ondiri Wetland Kenya (FOWK) was formed over five years ago to protect and promote Ondiri swamp to create a sustainable, well conserved wetland that would be of benefit to the community and the ecosystem.

At first FOWK faced opposition from some members of the community mostly because there was a lot of misunderstanding about their intentions. One of the more interesting points of contention came about because the land around Ondiri swamp has historically been registered under Nairobi and not Kiambu.

As a result, some interested parties sold the false narrative that the land was to be transferred to the national government, a story that naturally did not go down very well with residents, much to the delight of the naysayers.

However, after spirited community sensitisation and advocacy campaigns, the residents have since embraced the restoration and conservation model for Ondiri spearheaded by the chairman of FOWK David Wakogy, a passionate environmentalist.

In addition, FOWK has partnered with the County Government of Kiambu, Kenya Forest Service, Water Resource Authority and the National Environmental Authority, all of whom were represented at the breakfast meeting.

FOWK have established an information centre on the eastern flank of Ondiri swamp, the first of its kind in Kenya for a wetland. The centre provides information on Ondiri and other wetland news, guided tours and nature trails.

The entire 3.3 kilometres perimeter of the swamp has recently been fenced and in the process 10 metres of riparian land has been reclaimed. Residents are now able to connect between Maa ya Ihii and Kikuyu via a mini causeway over the swamp.

Tree coverage has increased tremendously following several tree-planting campaigns, which provides much needed protection against soil erosion, fodder harvesting, encroachment and dumping. Of the most visible improvements is the rise in water levels and increased outflow of clean water.

Ramsar sites are designated wetlands of international importance and recognised by the Ramsar Convention of 1971. Kenya currently has six sites which are recognised Ramsar Sites namely, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Lake Bogoria, Lake Baringo, Lake Elmentaita and River Tana.

FOWK have been advocating for Ondiri swamp to be gazetted as a protected wetland and the necessary resolutions have been passed at Senate level and all that remains now is formal gazettement. This is a major achievement, and it demonstrates how a citizen-driven initiative can bring great benefit for stakeholders rather than waiting for politicians and the government to do so.

FOWK are also campaigning for Ondiri to be the venue of the 2022 World Wetlands Day in Kenya which will put it on the world map.

The restoration, conservation and management of Ondiri swamp is now regarded as the benchmark for all wetlands in Kenya.

Congratulations to these young people for an excellent example of a successful private public partnership.