The Ramsar Convention on wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands by providing a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of these fragile ecosystems and their resources.
The Ramsar Convention on wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 on the shores of the Caspian sea, and the Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet. The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.
There are "three pillars" of action through which member states seek to deliver their commitments to wetland conservation and wise use and they include;
a) Wise Use
This entails working through a wide range of actions and processes with an aim of contributing to human well-being (water and food security and poverty alleviation), ensuring sustainable wetlands and river basin management, efficient water allocation, establishing national wetland policies and plans; reviewing and harmonizing the framework of laws and financial instruments affecting wetlands; undertaking inventory and assessment; integrating wetlands into the sustainable development process; ensuring public participation in wetland management and the maintenance of cultural values by local communities and indigenous people; promoting communication, education and public awareness; increasing private sector involvement; and harmonizing implementation of the Ramsar Convention with other Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs);
b) Designation of sites of International Importance (Ramsar Sites)
Member countries should engage in further identifying, designating and managing sites of International Importance (Ramsar sites), as a contribution to the establishment of a global ecological network. Countries should also ensure effective management and monitoring of such sites.
c) International cooperation
This pillar focuses on management of trans-boundary water resources and wetlands and shared wetland species. Collaboration with other conventions and international organizations, sharing information and expertise as well as increase of flow of financial resources and relevant technologies to developing countries and countries in transition is encouraged.
Kenya became a signatory to the convention in 1990 with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as the focal administrative authority for the convention in Kenya. So far, Kenya has designated five Ramsar sites including;
1. Lake Nakuru designated on 5th June 1990 with an acreage of 18, 800 ha
2. Lake Naivasha designated on 10th April 1995 with an acreage of 30,000 ha
3. Lake Bogoria designated on 27th August 2001 with an acreage of 10,700 ha
4. Lake Baringo designated on 10th January 2002 with an acreage of 31, 469 ha
5. Lake Elementaita designated on 5th September 2005 with an acreage of 10, 880 ha
Other sites proposed for designation as Ramsar sites include: Tana Delta, Yala swamp, Sio-Siteko, Saiwa swamp.
As a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention, Kenya committed itself to the obligations under the Convention. It is explicitly stated under the convention a general obligation for the Contracting Parties is to include wetland conservation considerations within the national land use planning. Kenya is required to formulate and implement this planning so as to promote as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in the country.
A second obligation is to designate sites of International importance that meet the criteria for inclusion in the Ramsar list. As listed above Kenya has designated five sites.
Kenya is also obliged to promote the conservation of wetlands in the country (whether or not they are included in the list) through the establishment of nature reserves, and promote training in wetlands research, management and wardening. In addition management plans for Ramsar sites and non Ramsar should be developed. Kenya has so far developed management plans for Lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, Bogoria, Baringo, Jipe, Ol Bolo ssat among others. However the implementation of the Lake Naivasha Management Plan was challenged in court rendering it ineffective.
Additional actions recommended by the Ramsar Convention include;
* Developing a national policy on the wise use of wetlands
* Developing guidelines for wise use of wetlands
* Developing a national inventory of wetlands
* Carrying out and making economic evaluations of wetlands for planning
* Making hydrological assessment of wetlands for management