Today, 2 February 2023, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy calls on all South Africans to collaborate in the protection of wetlands as South Africa observes World Wetlands Day
Minister indicated that World Wetlands Day aims to raise awareness and to increase our understanding of the critical importance of these ecosystems. “However, 90% of the world’s wetlands are either degraded or lost, and this is problematic, in fact we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests and so we need to do something to raise awareness on the threats that they face on a global scale,” said Minister Barbara Creecy.
Held under the theme: It’s time for Wetland Restoration, this day marks the adoption of the 1971 Convention on Wetlands to raise awareness about the urgency of reversing the accelerating loss of wetlands, and to promote the conservation and restoration of these important water resources.
The UN Decade on ecosystem restoration which we are part of, is a great opportunity to rethink the human impact on the environment, particularly on wetlands. Wetlands are important in providing water related ecosystem services, such as clean water for drinking, cooling water for the energy sector and regulating water quantity (e.g. flood regulation). In addition to their role in erosion control, wetlands also contribute to land formation and therefore resilience to storms and climate change. Moreover, they provide a wide range of services that are dependent on water such as agricultural production, fisheries and tourism.
“Whilst deemed to be the most productive ecosystems, the latest Global Biodiversity Assessment indicates that wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. This finding is in congruence with the recent National Biodiversity Assessment which attests to wetlands as the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 79% of our wetland ecosystems being threatened,” said Creecy.
Recently, South Africa experienced record-breaking rains. Most notable in the past year were the devastating floods and landslides across the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape where floods washed away infrastructure, land and houses, destroyed livelihoods, displacing more than 40 000 people from their homes and took more than 400 lives.
On the other hand, we are a water-scarce country ranking among the 30 driest countries in the world. Thus, the importance of programmes aimed at improving our water quality and quantity alongside wetland restoration measures cannot be over-emphasized. Research estimates that protection and clearing of river catchments can increase our water supply by as much as one sixth, at a fraction of the cost of projects such as desalination.
As a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has invested over R461 million in rehabilitation and maintenance of various wetlands throughout South Africa since 2017. The rehabilitation and maintenance of wetlands is coordinated through the Working for Wetlands Programme, an Expanded Public Works Programme that focuses on remedial interventions for maintaining healthy wetlands.
In the last five years, the Working for Wetlands has rehabilitated 634 wetlands across the country, constituting approximately 22 500 hectares, contributing to increased healthier water supplies and improving the economic benefits of natural and agricultural habitats. The work is being done in a way that maximises socio-economic benefits in the form of employment creation, skills development and knowledge transfer and development of small local business (SMMEs). Through the programme 12 513 fulltime and part-time jobs have been created.
“South Africa’s rich endowment of biodiversity comes with a huge responsibility of ensuring that our species and ecosystems are conserved and used sustainably. Wetlands are therefore critical delivering on global commitments relating to biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development especially in the wake of the global commitments that the country has made in 2022 during the meetings of the Conference of Parties to the CBD, UNFCCC, CITES and UNCCD,” said Minister Creecy
The Minister’s audio visual statement can be accessed on this link: https://youtu.be/hrs2rfu2dP8
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic Of South Africa: Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.