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Wetlands: A national heritage

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By Elizabeth Sitotombe 

THE world has lost 85 percent of its wetlands since the 18th Century and they are disappearing three times faster than forests. 

Furthermore, in just 50 years, since 1970, about 30 percent of the world’s wetlands have been lost. 

The World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2 every year. This year’s World Wetlands Day is running under the theme ‘Wetlands and Human Well-being’. Zimbabwe is commemorating this day under the theme ‘Wetlands for Sustainable Livelihoods’ in Murehwa District, Mashonaland East Province, on Friday, February 2. 

The day is commemorated to mark the signing of the treaty on the conservation of wetlands which occurred on February 2 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. 

The treaty became popularly known as the Ramsar Convention and its aim is to raise public awareness on conservation, proper utilisation and management of wetlands and their resources. The Ramsar Convention positioned itself to reverse the loss of global wetlands and preserve those still in pristine condition. 

It is the only international treaty focused on the sustainable management of wetlands and it provides a platform to 172 contracting parties working together for wetlands conservation and wise use. 

In Zimbabwe, wetlands cover approximately 136 596 square km. Of the available wetlands in the country, 21 percent are severely degraded; 18 percent are stable and pristine, while 61 percent are moderately degraded. 

Zimbabwe has designated seven wetlands as wetlands of international importance. These include Driefontein grasslands, Middle Zambezi Omana Pools, Victoria Falls, Lake Chivero, Monavale Vlei, Chinhoyi Caves and Cleveland Dam. 

In a media briefing to mark World Wetlands Day, Environment, Climate and Wildlife Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said:“People draw sustenance, inspiration and resilience from these productive ecosystems. It calls on each of us to value our wetlands. Human well-being is irrevocably tied to the state of the world’s wetlands. We are dependent on these life sustaining ecosystems. 

“However, they must be healthy if they are to continue to provide us with water and food support biodiversity, provide livelihoods, protect against extreme weather events as well as mitigate against climate change. 

“Let me highlight that investing in the sustainable use of wetlands means investing in the future of humanity. Wetlands can provide cities and their residents multiple economic, social and cultural benefits that support human well-being. 

“Wetland restoration is essential to overcome the climate biodiversity crisis. The contributions that wetlands make to human well-being have often been under appreciated. Consequently, wetland management has been overlooked in development planning.” 

He urged stakeholders and individuals alike to come up with ways to manage and utilise wetlands in a sustainable manner. 

It is unfortunate that many illegal residential and commercial properties keep popping up on wetlands, especially in the urban centres. 

Wetlands degradation will not only affect the aquatic fauna and flora but humans as well. Recently, we witnessed the flooding of homes in Chitungwiza even when the rains were not that heavy. It is just another effect arising from the destruction of wetlands. 

Benefits of wetlands include storing and regulating water. Wetlands can also improve water quality by removing pollutants from surface waters. In many urban areas, many pollutants, such as sewage, road salts, grease and oil from vehicles, are washed by rainfall from settlements into water bodies. 

Wetlands will, therefore, play a crucial role in ensuring that the water quality is improved through removing pollutants from surface waters. The pollutant removal process provided by wetlands is done through sediment trapping, nutrient removal and chemical detoxification. This process ensures that water quality is improved, thereby making it safe to drink and providing stream flows for fish, animals, plants and other organisms that live near the wetlands. 

Campaigns by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and other environmentalists have helped increase awareness on the importance and need to protect wetlands. The Government of Zimbabwe, through the Environment Ministry, developed the National Wetlands Policy masterplan and guidelines to inform decision-making and development planning by Government, the private sector, development partners, traditional leaders, communities and individuals. 

Currently, there are 92 wetland restoration projects being implemented across the country. 

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is preparing to host the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 2025 in Victoria Falls. 

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