World Wetlands Day 2018
2 February each year is World Wetlands Day. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.
South Africa is one of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention). South Africa signed the Ramsar Convention in 1971 at its inception and the membership was formalised in 1975 when South Africa ratified the Convention and became the fifth contracting party. One of the obligations of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention is to commemorate the World Wetlands Day (WWD).
The WWD is celebrated annually on 2 February. This day marks the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance on 2 February 1971. On this day, people around the world, including government departments, non-governmental organisations, civil society at large and academia, come together to celebrate WWD with the aim of creating and raising public awareness on the value of wetlands and its vital link to human well-being.
The 2018 theme for WWD as communicated by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Secretariat is: “Wetlands for a sustainable urban future”. This has been selected to highlight the important role of urban wetlands in making cities liveable. They reduce flooding, replenish drinking water, filter waste, provide urban green spaces, and are a source of livelihoods. Urban wetlands should be integrated into a city’s sustainable future planning and development.
South Africa is a water scarce country, and the water in many streams is polluted. Both droughts and floods are common. In this regards, wetlands play a vital role by removing toxic substances and sediment from water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities.
Wetlands are able to reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow. They also help to purify water and provide habitat for many different plants and animals. Besides these indirect benefits to society, wetlands provide many direct benefits in the form of resources such as fibre for making crafts as well as recreational opportunities. However lack of community awareness on the value and benefits of wetlands often leads to their transformation by humans.
Wetlands also produce goods that have a significant economic value such as clean water, fisheries, timber, peat, wildlife resources and tourism opportunities. The loss and degradation of wetlands is driven by several factors. Important wetlandfunctions include water storage, groundwater recharge, storm protection, flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization, erosion control, and retention of carbon, nutrients, sediments and pollutants. Increased demand for agricultural land associated with population growth continues to be a significant cause of wetland loss in some parts of the world.
Statistics indicate that the costs of loss of freshwater wetlands worldwide from 1997 to 2011 has been valued at US$2.7 trillion per year, while the costs of loss of tidal marshes or mangroves has been estimated at US$7.2 trillion per year and the loss of coral reefs has been estimated at US$11.9 trillion. Wetlands continue to face severe pressures, despite many benefits they provide to people. These pressures arise from major economic drivers and hence there is a need to mainstream ecosystem services into economic decisions.
For example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) concluded that many water resource developments that have been undertaken to increase access to water have not given adequate consideration to harmful trade-offs with other services provided by wetlands. An increased appreciation of the values to society of water related ecosystem services from nature and the wider range of ecosystem services from wetlands in particular, will be essential to catalyse an appropriate policy and business response.