World Wetlands Day- 2 February 2010: An Answer to Climate Change
The World Wetlands Day celebration marks the acknowledgement of wetlands as dynamic ecosystems that provide indispensible ecosystem goods and services. “Many studies have shown that wetlands play a major role in providing natural infrastructure, gathering, managing, delivering water and other goods & services for human use” says Bonani Madikizela, Research Manager at the WRC. Studies estimate that up to 60% of the wetlands have been damaged due to human impact. With the rapid urban development taking place at high rate, there has been a gradual destruction of wetlands.
The 13th anniversary of ‘World Wetlands Day’ was celebrated at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) on 2 February 2010. Prior to this celebration, South Africa had also launched the International Year of Biodiversity at the same Institute. The honourable Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, gave a keynote address, accompanied by Ms Nandi Mayathula-Khoza: MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Tersa Ernest: MMC for Agriculture and Environment in the City of Tshwane Municipality. The event was jointly organised by SANBI, the Water Research Commission (WRC) and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“South Africa has 115 000 wetlands, covering over 4 million hectares and comprising close to 4% of the country’s total surface area” said the Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi. She further stressed that many of South Africa’s wetlands have been lost because of agriculture, timber plantations, mining and urban development.
Studies in several major catchments have revealed that between 35% and 60% of the wetlands, and the benefits they provide, have been lost or severely degraded. ‘International and South African experience has shown that it is possible to recover some of the health and values of degraded wetlands’ say the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.
“South Africa is a developing country with most of the rural communities depending heavily on wetlands for cultivation, grazing and water. There is however a rate of erosion in these wetlands as a result of intensive, unsuitable farming practices” she says. “Given the importance of the communities living adjacent to wetlands, teaching communities the right farming methods and rehabilitation should be considered as extremely important” says the Deputy Minister.
According to the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, there is a need to strengthen partnerships and educational awareness campaigns, such as Land Care championed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Working for Wetlands as undertaken by SANBI. “We also appreciate the effort and good work of law enforcement agencies” she says.
The meeting focused on the importance of wetlands as they play a significant role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Many wetlands in South Africa are likely to be affected by the changes in temperature and rainfall brought about by climate change. Higher water temperatures and extreme events like floods and droughts have been projected to decrease water quality and increase erosion in many of the wetlands. This degradation due to droughts is illustrated by the continued burning of the Bodibe wetalnds in the North West province.
A visit to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve situated in Pretoria confirmed the importance of the day, with the guests getting to learn more about peat soils and witness the wetland rehabilitation project. ”South Africa has 29 500 hectares or 1% of the country’s total wetland area and contains about 280 million cubic meters of peat” says Carmel Mbizvo, Head Knowledge, Policy and Network Manager at SANBI.
The Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi says ”I am proud to have South Africa designating its 20th Wetland of International Importance and it is the 7th in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is located in an area rich in wetlands and is one of the largest high altitude wetlands in South Africa”. In her conclusion she honoured the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve with a certificate for acknowledging the protective measures done at the reserve.
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