Wetlands are a source of life
(Image: pixabay.com)

2 February 2021

Today, 2 February 2021, South Africa joins the nations of the world in celebration of the World Wetland Day with this year’s theme of: “Wetlands and Water”. This year’s focus highlights the role of wetlands as sources of freshwater and presents a call for actions towards the protection and restoration of wetlands.

“Despite their significance to human life, the 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment found that wetlands are the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 79% threatened. This report emphasises the role of rivers, wetlands and their catchments as crucial ecological infrastructure for water security and often complementing built infrastructure. Major threats to these freshwater systems are noted over-extraction of water, pollution, invasive alien species, habitat loss, land-use change and climate change,” said Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy.

In pursuit of continued efforts to conserve the wetland ecosystems, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has invested more than R83 million in the rehabilitation and maintenance of at least 75 wetlands in the current financial year. 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. This programme has demonstrated that it is possible to pursue conservation outcomes while at the same time realising socio-economic objectives.

Since its inception in 2004, the Working for Wetlands Programme has rehabilitated over 1 749 wetlands countrywide, thereby contributing to increased healthier water supplies improving the economic benefits of natural and agricultural habitats. This has created more than 40 274 jobs and skills development opportunities for South Africans.

“Wetlands are highly productive and biologically diverse systems that enhance water quality, control erosion, maintain stream flows, sequestrate carbon, and provide habitats to threatened and endangered species,” said Minister Creecy.

They do not only play an important role in ensuring a steady supply of clean water for the country, its people and the economy, but their sponge-like vegetation also preserves agriculture lands and protects infrastructure from the destructive impact of fast flowing flood water(stormwater attenuation). In coastal zones wetlands provide protection from tropical cyclones by creating a buffer zone between bodies of water and the land. Wetlands clean and keep the water for slow release even during the drought spells that our country often experiences.

“Our rich endowment of biodiversity and ecosystems comes with a huge responsibility of ensuring that our species and ecosystems are conserved and used sustainably for the benefit of all South Africans,” said Creecy.

Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries