Kenya and Tanzania will now jointly monitor any developments around the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Serengeti National Parks.
This follows the signing of an agreement between the two countries. The agreement means that any country can question any development it feels will threaten water in the Mara area.
Recently, there was an outcry when Tanzania decided to build a major highway across the Serengeti. Those plans have been shelved.
The Mara area provides a livelihood to millions of people, animals and is a major foreign exchange earner for the two countries.
It is approximately 13,325 square kilometres and is home to more than 1.1 million people and the world-famous Maasai Mara and Serengeti Park.
But for years, differing laws in Kenya and Tanzania were the main stumbling block in managing the shared ecosystem.
Some of the threats facing the area include deforestation by people settling in the Mau forest area, conflicts with wildlife because large-scale farming and shortage of water due to poor agricultural practices and extensive abstraction.
Other threats include increased soil erosion, water pollution due to discharge of effluence into Mara River, pollution from mining activities, and increased frequency and intensity of floods.
Water and Irrigation minister Eugene Wamalwa says water resources planning in the two countries was previously not coordinated jointly.
“The situation is further exacerbated by weak and poorly enforced water related laws and regulations,” he says.
However, the threats will now be addressed jointly following the recent signing of the memorandum of understanding during the fourth Mara Day celebrations in Butiama, Tanzania.
Wamalwa signed on behalf of Kenya while Mbogo Futakamba, Tanzania’s Water PS, signed on behalf of his country.
Tanzania Vice President Mohammed Gharib Bilal was the chief guest.
The MoU says the two countries should share Environmental Impact Assessment results for any development projects within the basin which may impact on water.
It also seeks to address the introduction of any non-indigenous animals or plants into the area and says how such animals or plants would be controlled or eliminated.
Various stakeholders welcomed the MoU as a commitment by the two countries to conserve the Mara area.
“The government of Kenya is committed to the ongoing regional initiatives that are aimed at addressing the challenges facing the basin,” said Wamalwa.
He added: “I’m confident implementation of the MoU will strengthen our collaboration in the sustainable management and utilisation of our shared water resources.”
There is, however, concern that the MoU many not be a legally enforceable document and governments may not freely share information.
The Tanzanian VP said his government will implement the MoU fully.
“The two countries have signed an agreement and we are determined to implement it fully. We all want the basin to be sustainably managed for future generations,” he said.
Lake Victoria Basin Commission executive secretary Dr Canisius Kanangire termed the signing as a milestone.
“To all the East Africans, this is a monumental achievement. It will provide a framework upon which agreed actions between the two partner States will be implemented,” said Kanangire.
Nicholas ole Murero, the coordinator of Mara Serengeti ecosystem, said: “From now, all the players including government, non-governmental organisations, and conservancies will now operate in a coordinated way.”
Frank Nkako, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Water Towers Agency, said the basin is a priceless resource which should be protected and asked the two countries to respect the MoU.
“As an agency, we have worked with other government agencies to recover about 60, 000 hectares of land in Mau Forest. This is part of the efforts to preserve the basin,” said Nkako.
Maasai Mara and Serengeti, arguably the two most famous parks in Africa, have of late seen numerous illegal developments that threaten the ecosystem.
Two years ago the United Nations Environment Programme reported that wildebeest populations were declining because their dispersal areas and migratory corridors were being lost due to high human population densities, increasing urbanisation, expanding agriculture and fences.
The migration is the signature of Kenya’s Safari tourism.
Unep said the migrations are important both ecologically and economically. “Economically, wildebeest migrations are important because they draw in tourism and thus contribute significantly to national economies,” Unep said.
In 2007, the county councils of Narok and Transmara commissioned the development of a new general management plan which was later adopted by the two councils. But the plan was never enforced.