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Managing our wetlands for sustained water security   
As a country, we are still grappling with the impacts of mining, industrial development, and large-scale commercial agriculture and forestry on our wetlands, but we should in essence now be moving into an era of ‘wise use’, or at least people-centred wetland management.

South Africa has already lost an estimated 50% of its wetlands, to mining, agriculture and industrial development, urbanisation and pollution. A large body of research exists on our wetlands, much of which has been funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC).

One of the Commission's most popular products, used widely by environmental practitioners nationally and internationally, is an informative ‘Wet-Series’ – a set of integrated tools for assisting users to achieve well-informed and effective wetland management and rehabilitation.

According to Mr Bonani Madikizela, Research Manager for Water-Linked Ecosystems at the WRC, the Commission has spent over R60 million in wetland-related research over the past 15 years. Another WRC publication, ‘Easy Identification of Wetland Plants’ (Report No TT 479/10) has proved especially popular among practitioners and others who need to document the variety of wetland plants they encounter in the field.

Additionally, the WRC has developed a handbook and decision support system on wetlands for practitioners, policy makers and stakeholders. The book takes theory, research and experiences on wetlands and translates this into an accessible and easy-to-use tool for better decision-making.

Building on previous work funded by the WRC, the decision-support system assists with, among others, the assessment of the supply of ecosystem services by a particular wetland; exploring how different use-scenarios might affect the suite of ecosystem services supplied by a particular wetland; assessing the current demand for and use of the services supplied by a wetland, and identifying opportunities and risks to the provision of ecosystem services by a wetland.

An increasing water scarcity challenge shows that our wetlands are under increasing pressure. It has become clear that in future there will be more people wanting more water so that they can survive and prosper. It has often been said that we cannot live without water and we cannot establish our livelihoods without it. If we want our wetlands to continue to perform for us and deliver the benefits that we require then we need to increasingly appreciate the relationship that exists between ourselves and wetlands.

It is, however, difficult to appreciate the nature of this relationship if we don’t have a full understanding and appreciation gained from the existing collective knowledge.

Wetland degradation compromises livelihood opportunities, specifically with regard to water supply for domestic use.  Villages need wetlands for livestock watering, for reed production and most commonly for cultivation. Rehabilitating a degraded wetland restores the benefits it offers.  For example, the Manalana Wetland at Craigieburn village in Mpumalanga had suffered severe degradation before it was rehabilitated in 2007. An economic analysis has shown that if the wetland had not been rehabilitated then the benefits accruing to users would have declined by 75%.

The Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that was adopted on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, compels us to restore the dignity our wetlands deserve.

As part of World Wetlands Day celebrations for 2017, the WRC shared various resources on wetlands in a form of a training workshop that was held at SANBI, Pretoria, on 2 – 3 February 2017.

Delegates were trained on the use of the WRC guide developed for wetland plant identification at the Colbyn Valley Nature Reserve.

A wetland is described as an area of land where the soil is permanently or seasonally saturated with water, which can be salt, fresh or brackish. Swamps, marshes, vleis and bogs are all examples of wetlands.

WRC reports on wetlands can be downloaded free of charge from the Knowledge Hub www.wrc.org.za


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