Traditionally, riparian zones have been conceived as natural areas adjacent to water bodies. Today these are infiltrated by other non-traditional functions, particularly human settlement related; their management is a complicated negotiation.
Traditionally, riparian zones have been defined, planned, and managed as natural areas adjacent to rivers or water bodies; seen in this context, the riparian zone as a land use would largely have a recreational and/or environmental function attached to it. Consequently, when it comes to river restoration and rehabilitation, the above characteristics have formed the bulk of the desired end-state. However, the situation becomes much more complex where, for various reasons such as lack of access to urban land especially for the poor, such areas are infiltrated by other non-traditional uses, particularly those related to human settlement. In Nairobi, and Mathare River Valley in particular, the bulk of human activities occupying and using the riparian zone fall under the pro-poor informal sector; these include shanty dwelling units, informal micro-industry, urban agriculture (including livestock farming), informal breweries, and clay works. For decades, the Mathare riparian corridor has been colonized and utilized by the urban poor now estimated at over 6000 households organized into villages; whereas majority use it for dormitory purposes only, a significant number have relied on it for extractive and processing micro-economic functions with tangible benefits. Both dimensions have triggered serious problems related to environmental quality and carrying capacity. A significant proportion of these households have settled much into the flood zone that is considered as hazardous.
Recently the Government of Kenya, through a ministerial statement, put the riparian communities on notice pending total recovery of the riparian reserve. The immediate impact is the imminent displacement of large amount of dwellings, but also such a move is predicted to have adverse effects on key livelihoods and socio-economic activities of the community in the long-term. The pronouncement has been met by anxiety and resistance on the community side, who argue that complete recovery of the riparian zone for exclusive natural and recreational functions will have far-reaching effects and thus is not sustainable. Other than exchanges through the media, there has not been any effort towards dialogue, neither has there been initiated any meaningful research to establish the true extent of potential impacts of enforcing the pronouncement in total. The research employs GIS mapping techniques as well as field surveys to develop community profiles; overlays will be conducted to assess level of displacement and its impacts, which will be interpreted in scenario development. The output is a negotiated framework for rehabilitation of Nairobi riparian zone anchored on four components: community mapping, impact assessment, scenario development, and consensus building.
Riparian; Rehabilitation; Framework; Livelihoods