Celebrating World Wetlands Day

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The 2nd of February is World Wetlands Day and this year is celebrated under the theme 'Wetlands and Water Management'.  The aim of the day is to draw attention to wetland habitats and the vital role they play in the environment and the human economy.

It’s a sad fact that about 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have already been destroyed or converted through draining, the building of dams, incorrect burning and overgrazing, invasive alien species, waste disposal, water abstraction, agricultural, urban development and inappropriate land management. These losses are expected to increase as the human population grows and demand for water resources and land expands.1

Action needs to be taken to protect and rehabilitate wetlands. With South Africa being a water scarce country, the continued destruction of wetlands will result in lower agricultural productivity, reduced clean water, less reliable water supplies and increased downstream flooding; it will also result in increasingly threatened plant and animal resources.2

The benefits of wetlands

The benefits that humans obtain from wetlands can be classified into direct use, indirect and non-use:1

  • Rural communities obtain direct benefits from wetlands when they harvest reeds for crafts, grow crops in wetland fields and extract water for drinking. They also obtain medicinal plants from wetlands, and at least 70% of South Africans are believed to use traditional medicine as their primary form of health care.
  • Indirect benefits include services such as the purification of water contaminated by industrial and domestic waste through physical filtration and dissolution of chemicals. Wetlands also mitigate floods and droughts by slowing down the flow of the water during the rainy season and storing water for release in the dry season. In this way they reduce the impact of natural disasters and reduce soil erosion, which would otherwise mean the loss of arable land and potable water. The unique and often spectacular biodiversity present in wetlands attracts tourists, which translates into socio-economic opportunities for local communities and increased revenue for the country.
  • Wetlands have for millennia provided breeding and feeding habitats for birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Wetlands are thus rich in biodiversity and are important stop-overs for many migratory species, with some species dependent on wetlands for breeding. Wetlands are also important carbon sinks, playing a key role in mitigating climate change.

Wetland conservation

Wetland conservation is not only about the rural people who are directly dependent on them for their survival, but affects all human beings and several other species. Every wetland – regardless of types and irrespective of size or location – forms an integral part of a natural ecological system that supports human well-being and biodiversity.1

The simple fact is that continued wetland destruction will result in less clean water, less reliable water supplies, increased severe flooding, lower agricultural productivity, and more endangered species.3

What you can do

At a World Water Day celebration on Friday, Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Rejoice Mabudafhasi, urged all South Africans to assist in protecting wetlands. The easiest way to do this is to identify the nearest wetland in your community and organise a clean-up with your neighbours. Also keep encouraging people to keep our local rivers and wetlands clean and free from litter and pollution.

Additional information and resources:

To find out more about wetlands and local conversation programmes please visit:

 

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Information for this article provided by and sourced from the following articles and websites:

1 The Green Times: “Why Wetlands Matter”

2 Water Wise: “Wetland and Water Management”

3 Water Wise: “Wetland Rehabilitation Poster & Lesson Notes” (PDF)

Working for Wetlands

Wikipedia

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