Brief notes on the Tana River Basin

Tana River basin is the longest river in Kenya; it has ‘small lakes’ that flow only during the rainy seasons with its source being the Abardare Mountains located to the west of Nyeri.

The river passes through Garissa, Hola and Garsen towns and then it enters the Indian Ocean. The annual flows is above 5,000 million cubic meters on average, but it varies substantially both within and across with two flooding seasons each year. Along the Tana River basin there a series of hydroelectric dams such as the: Kindaruma dam built in 1968, the Kambaru dam in 1975, the Gataru dam in 1978, the Masinga dam in 1981 and Kiambere dam 1988. A study was done in 2003 that reported that two thirds of Kenya’s electrical needs were supplied by the series of dams along the Tana River basin

The Tana River basin supports the livelihoods of more than four million people most of them are pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and fishers folks. It is the only permanent river in this extremely dry region and constitutes a vital water resource for all sectors of human populations. Irrigated agriculture is practiced along the river by agro-pastoralist and nomadic pastoralist occupying the rest of the basin. The lower ridges of the rivers pass through semi-arid land most populated by pastoralist and riverine people. The delta has also high tourism potential not well utilized to sustain the livelihoods of the communities.

The construction of dams for hydroelectric generation in the late 1960s & 1980s resulted to decreased outflows during the dry period with high outflows during the high-flows period. This resulted in spill-water level that severely compromised dam safety. In 1961, the most dangerous flood Occurred in the region its impacts were more severe in the Tana River district it seriously affected food and agriculture (FAO1967)

The Masinga dam is the biggest storage reservoir for hydropower generation in Kenya and also is the main cause of downstream flooding during the high flows periods. When this dam spills, a huge amount of water is released, the spills from the dam cause flooding in downstream in Garissa town, part of Ijara and Tana River districts. The pastoralist’s herders have more advantage during this period because there will be increased pasture and the production of livestock will increase. Moreover the conflicts between the farmers and pastoralist will reduce since there is a lot of water for animals some time. Another challenge is that the high flows will destroy crops and marine life therefore the agro-farmers will report losses from the farm produce and also the fishers community will get hard time getting fish.

The clashes between pastoralists and farmers communities in the Tana delta region are largely linked to a scramble for resources within the basin which have caused the deaths and displacement of people from their ancestral land over the years. The history land injustices and poor land use and mismanagement of land by investors in the area; owing to the fact that this is a communal land and none of the community member have tittle deeds have worsen the peaceful coexistence of people in the Tana Basin. The livelihoods of the people have been challenged, pastoralist have resorted to alternative means of the survival because the grazing fields have attracted so many industries.


  • All the stakeholders should come up with comprehensive land use planning which should consider all the needs of different communities living in the area, considering that pastoralism is sustainable and viable way of life
  • They need to come up with, flood mapping to assess the economic losses arising from flood events to enable the county and national government develop and responsive contingency planning and preparedness
  • Bottom up approach listen to the community needs and involve all the stakeholders in all the development projects in the area

Monica Yator

Program Officer PDNK


Pastoralist Development Network - of Kenya

We are an advocacy NGO established under a Trust deed number 791 DI 4453128 in 2003. The network is a conglomeration of 60 pastoralists’ individuals, NGOs and CBOs and non-pastoralist institutions and individuals supporting pastoralists’ development process in Kenya. It draws its membership from North Rift, South Rift, North Eastern and Upper Eastern regions of Kenya representing 14 pastoralist Counties. Its mission is to lobby for the inclusion of the pastoralist agenda in mainstream development with the vision of a prosperous pastoralist society.

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Brief notes on the Tana River Basin

Tana River basin is the longest river in Kenya; it has ‘small lakes’ that flow only during the rainy seasons with its source being the Abardare Mountains located to the west of Nyeri.

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