Wetlands cover about 4–6% of the earth‟s surface and are the most productive ecosystems on earth. However, they are under threat from natural and anthropogenic factors with more than half having disappeared, largely through factors related to increase in human population such as; conversion to agricultural use, urbanization, transport and communication, human settlement and infrastructure expansion. This study assessed water quality, vegetation status, socio-economic status as well as livelihood options of local communities adjacent to Ombeyi wetland, Kenya. Water quality (pH, Dissolved Oxygen (DO) and turbidity) were obtained from nine sites within the wetland. Vegetation attributes; species composition and frequency were assessed using ecological data collection techniques involving random quadrat method. A questionnaire was used to assess the socio-economic activities as well as livelihood options among the local communities. Data was analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics tests.

The findings indicate variations in mean values of select physico-chemical characteristics at various sites in the wetland. There was significant site effect on mean water turbidity (F1,8. =29.95, P<0.01) pH (F1,8. =8.13, P<0.01), Dissolved Oxygen (F1,8. =5.19, P<0.01) with the high turbidity values being observed at site S7 (129±8.5 NTUs) and low turbidity values at S1 (82.7±1.33 NTUs). pH ranged from 6.7±0.21 to 7.9±0.46 in sites S1 and S6 respectively. The low values of dissolved oxygen were recorded at site S6 (6.2±0.16mgL-1). Fifteen plant species were encountered in the wetland and vegetation varied in composition amongst sites with sites S2 and S4 recording the high numbers and site S9 recording low numbers of species. The three abundant plant species were Centella asiatica, Pycreus nitidus and Trifolium vesiculosum. Cyperus papyrus was observed to have been exploited in many areas within the wetland. The most common activity practiced by the community was fishing and cattle grazing, which had a negative correlation with the water pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) and turbidity. This high level of dependence on farming and grazing is likely to have contributed to the general decline of wetland vegetation.

These findings will contribute towards improvement of policy implementation and awareness creation on the need to protect the wetland through sustainable exploitation of wetland vegetation and natural resources.

Background of the Study
Wetland ecosystems are the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth and include marshes, lakes, rivers, flood basins, estuarine deltas, ponds, rice fields, and marine water areas where the depth at low tide does not exceed 6 m (Convention on Wetlands 1971). Wetlands cover 4–6% of the earth‟s surface and are considered to be one of the most productive ecosystems on earth‟s surface (Wetlands International Africa, 2009). However, wetland ecosystems are also among the most threatened (Abebe, 2003) with more than 50% of the world‟s wetlands altered, degraded, or lost in the last 150 years (O‟Connell 2003). The global review of wetland resources and priorities for wetland inventory in 1999 found that only 7% of all countries had adequate national wetland inventories and 25% had no available national wetland inventory (Conference of Parties, 2002; Revenga, 2003). More than 54% wetlands had been lost by the mid-1980s, primarily to agriculture and industrialization in the United States (Gibbs, 2000). Foote et al. (1996) described how an increasing rural population in India places enormous pressure on natural wetlands and described 12 major causes of wetland loss in that country, agriculture again dominating as the primary cause.

Many wetlands in Eastern Africa have come under extreme pressure as government policies; socio-economic hinge and population increase have stimulated a need for more agriculturally productive and urban land (Van Dam, 2011). In Nakivubo wetland in Kampala approximately US$ 100,000 was estimated to accrue from wetland goods and products through crop cultivation, papyrus harvesting, brick making, and fish farming (Kaggwa et al, 2009). In rural areas of Uganda, households engaged in papyrus harvesting are estimated to be deriving as much as US$ 200 a year from their wetland activities and approximately five million people depend directly on wetlands for their water supply (Kansiime et al, 2007). Kenya‟s wetlands occupy around 3-4% of Kenya‟s land mass though this can momentarily rocket to 6% in the rainy seasons (Kenya Wetlands Forum, 2012). The wetlands continue to face a myriad of challenges including reclamation and encroachment for agriculture, settlement and industrial development; invasive and alien species; pollution and eutrophication due to population pressure (Raburu, 2003).

The Ombeyi wetland ecosystem is an important wetland contributing to the natural capital in Kenya‟s side of the Lake Victoria Basin. It provides essential benefits to local communities who directly and indirectly depend on it for their livelihood support and income (Orwa et al., 2012). Directly, the wetland is used for fishing, hunting, sand and clay extraction for construction and pottery respectively. It further provides water for household and industrial uses, small-scale agriculture for both subsistence and commercial purposes in addition to papyrus and other reeds (wetland grasses) for roofing and livestock grazing among others. It acts as a home for many plants and wildlife, providing conducive breeding and feeding areas for diverse animals. Indirectly, it recharges the underground water aquifers and enhances environmental flows in other wetlands connected with it, regulates flood flow regimes and act as important stabilizers for maintaining micro-climate (Raburu, 2003).

Inspite of the many benefits and services that Ombeyi wetland provides, land use changes, poverty, coupled with rapid socio-economic dynamics of increasing population, HIV/AIDS, inequity and lack of an elaborate planning framework have impeded the sustainable management and development of the Ombeyi Ecosystem for both present and future generations (Orwa et al., 2012). This has resulted in degradation, water pollution, loss of biodiversity leading to loss of livelihoods

Land use changes are important drivers of water, soil and air pollution. The oldest form being land clearance for agriculture and harvest of trees and other biomass which leaves soils vulnerable to massive increase in soil erosion by wind and water (Erle and Pontius, 2007) Modern agricultural practices, which include, intensive inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers have substantially increased the pollution of surface water by runoff and erosion and the pollution of groundwater by leaching of excess nitrogen (as nitrate) (Hunt, 2004). Other agricultural chemicals; including herbicides and pesticides are also released to ground and surface waters by agriculture and in some cases remain as contaminants.

The major sources of water in a wetland are determined by its geomorphic setting and local climatic conditions. In turn, the sources of the water in a wetland determine not only the amount present and when it is present, but also its chemistry. The water chemistry of wetlands whose primary source of water is precipitation will be very different from that of a wetland whose primary source of water is groundwater discharge. This can have a major effect on the species composition of the vegetation and its primary production (Scheren et al., 2000).

The loss of wetland ecosystem services damages the health and well-being of individuals and local communities and diminishes their development prospects (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). This problem is of serious concern in many countries where local communities are highly dependent on wetland resources. It is particularly severe in countries that have weak policy and management strategies, negatively affecting the conservation and sustainable management of wetland resources. Decline in resources for instance fish in the wetland forces fishing communities to consider alternate livelihood measures such as poultry, livestock and crop farming, handicrafts, and nonfarm day labor (Rahman et al. 2012). Thus the study carried out an ecological assessment of Ombeyi wetland and livelihood dynamics of the adjacent dependent communities in order to identify the status of the wetland.

The Statement of the Problem
Despite their importance, wetlands are being modified or reclaimed, often driven by economic and financial motives. Wetlands, however, contain numerous goods and services that have an economic value not only to local populations but also to people living outside the periphery of the wetland. The low economic status of Nyando Sub-County with a poverty prevalence of 63% has augmented the drive to exploit Ombeyi wetland (LVEMP). There is increased human settlements leading to overharvesting of the wetland resources (both animal and plant resources) and increase in pollution levels (LVEMP). This has resulted to loss of biodiversity, declining water quantities from degraded wetlands and loss of people‟s livelihoods.

Wetlands are currently degraded by both natural and anthropogenic activities, which deteriorate their quality, and push them to the brink of extinction in the process of unplanned development, giving rise to the need for suitable conservation strategies. Unfortunately, over the years, less attention has been given to wetland losses world over, including Ombeyi. The degradation of Ombeyi wetland has altered its functions, affecting the ecological balance and resulting in economic consequences for the local people. This study aimed at investigating the ecology and livelihoods of the local community in Ombeyi Wetland.

Objectives of the Study
Broad Objective
To contribute to sustainable management and conservation of Ombeyi wetland and hence ensure sustained provisioning of ecosystem services and goods necessary to sustain local livelihoods.

Specific Objectives
The specific objectives of the study were:

1. To compare the water quality parameters (Dissolved Oxygen, pH and Turbidity) at different points in Ombeyi wetland

2. To assess the vegetation structure and composition in Ombeyi wetland

3. To characterize the socio economic factors and livelihoods of the communities dependent on Ombeyi wetland

Research Questions
1. Are the water quality parameters (Dissolved Oxygen, pH and Turbidity) different across sites?

2. What is the composition of wetland vegetation in Ombeyi wetland?

3. What is the socio-economic status of local dependent communities at Ombeyi wetlands?

4. What livelihoods options exist on Ombeyi wetland?

Justification of the Study
Generally, wetland functions directly relate to their physical, chemical and biological integrity. Water quality evaluation for wetlands leads to information about their misuse by indicating the pollution status. Gale et al. (1993) define water quality objectives as the overall direction and purpose of the project, and furthermore define goals as milestones to be met during the course of a project. Since the quality of aquatic life depends on the water quality, a thorough assessment of the water quality was an integral part of Ombeyi wetland evaluation, thus the comparison of the water quality parameters (pH, Turbidity and Dissolved Oxygen) at different points in the wetland.

The findings from the study would provide information on the ecological status of the Ombeyi wetland and ways of improving the economic and ecological services provided by this system. The SDG 6 „Clean Water and Sanitation‟ goal aims at ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all. Other relevant SDGs to this study include: 1 - „No Poverty‟ 3 – „Good Health and Well-being‟ and 13 – „Climate Action‟. Provision of water and sanitation is also one of the social strategy goals of Kenya vision 2030. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems such as wetlands is essential in order to mitigate water scarcity.

The findings would provide a basis for the designing of specific mitigation measures such as improved farming and irrigation systems, community awareness and provision of alternative income generating activities in future. According to the 15th SDG goal on life on land, the aim is to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Kenya aims at having clean, secure and sustainable environment as depicted by its environment goal as one of its social strategy goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to conserve and restore the use of terrestrial ecosystems such as wetlands by 2020 to reduce the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. The findings from this study will help spearhead and sustain a wetland monitoring and assessment scheme using various methods/techniques that are compliant with the existing legislative and regulatory frameworks.

The study findings would also benefit the water resources management and fisheries sector as it helps identify the endangered species whether flora or fauna or both. The policy makers and local communities would benefit particularly on salient wetland management options as well as the cost and benefits of alternative wetland management schemes.

Scope of the Study
The study was limited to Ombeyi wetland. The ecological assessment was limited to the study of water characteristics and wetland vegetation over a period of four months. Water quality parameters studied were water turbidity, water pH and dissolved oxygen. Species included in composition measurements were those in areas inundated seasonally or permanently. The population sampled was confined to those that directly benefited from the wetland on either of the sampled sites. The household heads above the age of 18 years were used in filling the questionnaires.

There was reluctance by some of the respondents to offer information during the interviews. This was however countered by formulating focused group discussions to allow for public participation. Communication language was a barrier too because other respondents could only speak in their mother tongue, however this was countered through using translators. Vegetation identification to species level was equally a challenge and this was overcome by seeking guidance from wetland plant at Egerton University

Assumptions of the Study
The study assumed that the physical and chemical water quality was affected by human activities around the Ombeyi wetland and that vegetation composition was affected by human activities around the wetland. The study further assumed that the surrounding communities highly depended on the wetland for their daily livelihood. Additionally, the study assumed that the socio-economic and cultural aspects of the local community remained constant throughout the study period and that the political stability in the study area remained constant throughout the study period.

Definition of Terms
Indigenous knowledge: is the local understanding by a certain community with the same culture on existence of the wetland products and their usage.

Livelihood: a means of securing the necessities of life on a daily basis

Local uses: is utilization of the wetland products by the local community through consumption or selling within or outside the Ombeyi wetland.

Regeneration: is the ability to replace lost or damaged body parts and in plants it is through sprouts from cut trees.

Species diversity: refers to a combination of richness and relative abundance of a particular species.

Vegetation: is assemblages of plant species and the ground cover they provide

Wetland: is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem

Macrophytes: Macrophytes are aquatic plants growing in or near water. They may be emergent, submerged or floating.

Species frequency: is the number of times a plant species is present in a given number of quadrats of a particular size or at a given number of sample points.

Species density: is a measure of the number of organisms that make up a population in a defined area

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