World Wetlands Day commemorated under the theme Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods

02 February 2016

Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thomson has affirmed the importance of partnerships and stewardship in the management of wetlands. World Wetlands Day is marked annually on 2 February; with this year’s theme being: “Wetlands for our future: Sustainable Livelihoods”.

This day marks the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. On this day, government departments, non-governmental organisations, and civil society at large come together to raise public awareness on the value of wetlands and their vital link to human wellbeing.

Ramsar Sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention.  As of February 2016, there are 2,225Ramsar sites across the world coveringthe surface area of 214, 569, 564 hectares.

South Africa became one of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention in 1971. To date South Africa has designated 22 Ramsar sites.

Wetlands make up only 2.4% of South Africa’s surface area but they are responsible for a disproportionately high value of “ecological infrastructure” that provides critical ecosystem services such as water purification and flood regulation, among others.

Ecosystem services provided by wetlands also play important role in relation to nutrient cycling, climate change adaptation, food security, job security and a range of cultural benefits, including knowledge (scientific and traditional), recreation, tourism, and spiritual values.

Healthy wetlands also have a key role to play in reducing disaster risk. They act as natural buffers or protective barriers, for instance through mitigating land erosion and the impact from dust and sand storms. They also store large volumes of water, thereby reducing peak flood flow during the wet season; simultaneously maximizing water storage during dry seasons.

This year’s theme affirms the important role wetlands play in aiding countries achieve a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).Healthy wetlands provide various forms of sustainable livelihood benefits to households, especially in rural communities.

Utilisation of natural resources, cropping, livestock grazing and employment in tourism-related activities such as bird watching contribute to the monetary income to households.

This year’s theme is in line with SDG Goal 6 – ‘Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all’, and Goal 15 – ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.’ The realisation of the above requires taking actions to manage fragile water-related ecosystems, including rivers, lakes and wetlands.

A recent study by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) estimates that approximately 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900; mainly the result of extensive agriculture, urban infrastructure development, water diversion (dams and canalisation), pollution on land and air and climate change.

South Africa has lost approximately 50% of its original wetland area over time, but the Department of Environmental Affairs has been actively working to reverse this degradation through the

Working for Wetlands Programme. The programmed, which is facilitated through government’s Expanded Public Works Programmed (EPWP), has made a significant contribution to the National Development Plan’s aim of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030.

Since 2004, we have invested  R827m in the Working for WetlandsProgram. A total of 23,472 jobs were created while restoring wetlands.

Some of the wetlands that have been rehabilitated are not only important nationally but include wetlands of international importance, such as the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in the Orange River Mouth and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

“Our country’s vast ecological assets give us a competitive advantage in the green economy arena, and it is of paramount importance to rehabilitate our wetlands and manage them effectively and efficiently,” says Deputy Minister Thomson, adding that wetlands also have an important role to play in climate change adaptation.

“We need to work together to ensure that wetlands remain healthy and productive by securing them for our future and thereby sustaining livelihoods,” says Deputy Minister Thomson.

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Albi Modise
Cell: +27 83490 2871