South Africa celebrates World Wetlands Day

01 February 2018

South Africa will join the global community in celebration of the annual World Wetlands Day tomorrow, Friday 02 February 2018, under the theme: “Wetlands for sustainable urban future.”

World Wetlands Day is an annual event that commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 02 February 1971 in the Iranian City of Ramsar. The annual celebration is aimed at amongst others raise awareness on the benefits and importance of wetlands as a natural resource.

The Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Ms Barbara Thomson, has encouraged South Africans to get involved in protection and conservation of wetlands in the country. “Wetlands are an important part of the ecosystem, as they provide a number of benefits, not only to the natural environment, but also to the people’s livelihoods. Such benefits include: reduction of flooding, replenish drinking water, filter waste, and provision of urban green spaces. These benefits become more crucial as the number of people living in cities continues to increase,” says Deputy Minister Thomson.

In urban areas, wetlands act as crucial “green lungs” for the cities by improving water quality and serving as reservoirs, containing run-offs from roads, drains, roofs and storm water drains. It is recognised that wetlands in urban areas are also important for human related value, particularly landscape amenity and recreational purposes amongst others. However, for many years, urban wetlands have been regarded as wastelands, with their vital importance and functions not being fully understood.

Furthermore, the theme for 2018 is also strategically in line with the adopted Sustainable Development Goals particularly Goal 6.3 which emphasises the need to “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally” which are the most sources pollution that threaten the sustainability of urban wetlands.

South Africa is currently experiencing drought with the worst affected province being the Western Cape.  Given that the impacts of drought is most severe in this province, it has negatively impacted the fresh water supply, biodiversity and livelihoods. Wetlands if sustainable managed are able to reduce the impacts of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow. Furthermore, urban wetlands can provide cities with multiple economic, social and cultural benefits

The recent National Biodiversity Assessment indicates that wetlands are the most threatened ecosystems globally, despite the services they provide. Wetlands in South Africa have enormous economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits. It is however sad to note that, to date, we have lost an estimated 50% of wetlands in South Africa due to unsustainable use and poor land management.

It is for this reason that governments, non-governmental organisations, civil society at large, communities and other stakeholders, engage in various activities with an aim to educate and raise awareness about the values, wise use and importance of wetlands. The ultimate objective is to protect and conserve wetlands for the benefit of current and future generations.

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, restoration maintenance and protection interventions to ensure healthy wetlands.

Through the DEA’s investment under the Working for Wetlands programme has improved and secured the health of more than 80 000 hectares of wetland area, while providing 17575 employment opportunities. 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.

To mark the importance of World Wetlands Day, Deputy Minister Thomson will embark on a public awareness drive in the City of eThekwini on Tuesday 06 February 2017. Details of this event will be communicated in due course.

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Albi Modise
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