South Africa commemorates the annual World Wetlands Day
01 February 2017
South Africa will join the world in the commemoration of the annual World Wetlands Day under the theme: “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” tomorrow, 02 February 2017. The theme has been adopted in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 which calls for “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” particularly its target 13.1 which advocates for “strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries”. Therefore, this is a timely opportunity for South Africa to demonstrate the role of wetlands in achieving these goals through disaster risk reduction in events such as floods and the impacts of drought.
World Wetlands Day is an annual commemoration of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) signed on 02 February 1971 in the Iranian City of Ramsar, with South Africa formally becoming a member in 1975. The annual celebration of the World Wetland Dayis aimed at raising public awareness on direct and indirect benefits of wetlands in particular the role that they play in disaster risk reduction, their benefits to humanity, and also encouraging the participation of local communities in promoting the wise use of wetlands for their long term sustainability.
The Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson, urges all South Africans to continue to play a critical role in the conservation, protection and maintenance of wetlands for the benefits of communities.
“Wetlands provide significant benefits to the ecosystem, as they remove toxic substances and sediment from water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities. They are also 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,” says Deputy Minister Thomson.
Over the past two years, South Africa has been experiencing severe drought conditions, which have negatively impacted the fresh water supply, biodiversity and livelihoods. Therefore, this year’s World Wetlands Day theme is also strategically aligned to Goal 14 of the Ramsar Convention Strategic Plan for 2016 to 2024, which outlines “the importance of restoring degraded wetlands for biodiversity conservation, disaster risk reduction, livelihoods and/or climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.”
According to the findings of the National Biodiversity Assessment of 2011, wetlands make up approximately 2.4% of South Africa’s surface area. Although this is a relatively small area, wetlands provide a disproportionately high value of ecological infrastructure, providing critical ecosystem services such as water purification and flood regulation.
Wetlands are however the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 48% of wetland ecosystems being critically endangered and only 11% of wetland ecosystems being well protected, while 71% of them are not protected at all.
Given the strategic importance of wetlands, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) runs the Working for Wetlands Programme which is implemented through the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) methodology. The programme focuses on rehabilitation, maintenance and protection interventions to ensure healthy wetlands.
Since 2002, Working for Wetlands has invested R725 million in the rehabilitation of 1, 011 wetlands countrywide. This has improved or secured the health of more than 80,000 hectares of wetland area. In the process, the Programme has provided 17,575 employment opportunities, with 2.3 million person days worked to date. In line with the emphasis of the EPWP on training, Working for Wetlands has also provided 180, 753 days of training in both vocational and life skills. Teams that form part of the Programme are made up of a minimum of 60% women, 20% youth and 2% people with disabilities.
The DEA will continue to make significant investments in the conservation, management and restoration of wetlands through implementation of the Ramsar Convention and the Working for Wetlands Programme, to ensure healthy wetlands that will improve water quality and water supplies.
To mark the importance of World Wetlands Day, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson will embark on a public awareness drive in the City of Ekurhuleni on Friday, 17 February 2017. Details of this event will be communicated in due course.
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