By Indhrannie Pillay
World Wetlands Day is celebrated annually on 2 February which also marks the anniversary of the 1971 Convention on Wetlands.
Wetlands are uniquely designed ecosystems that provide natural essentials for human health and well being. Different types of wetlands provide different ecosystem services such as decreasing floods by acting like sponges and absorbing flood waters which is later released during the dry season, provision of clean water which reduces the cost of water purification and carbon storage. Commonly referred to as swamps or marshes, wetlands support a range of specialized plant like bulrushes and reeds which together with wetland soils store and use many pollutants such as toxins from sewage, agricultural chemicals and fertilisers. They also trap many heavy metals including zinc, cadmium and mercury which are produced as a result of mining and other industrial processes. They house various insect species, birds and mammal life as well also supply wild food, grazing and materials for building and crafts.
This year’s theme is Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People. South Africa is celebrating World Wetlands Day with a 21 day events programme across the country. On February 1st, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi, Gauteng Agriculture, Conservation and Environment MEC Khabisi Mosunkutu and Johannesburg Executive Mayor Amos Masondo welcomed guests to a celebration at the Hall of Dedication in Kliptown.
Mabudafhasi said, “The Kliptown wetlands are important because they have contributed indirectly to our economy and directly to our well-being because of their effectiveness in purifying wastewater from Johannesburg.” A field trip into the Klip wetlands was also taken. The national event focuses on the Klip River because of the crucial role its extensive peat beds play in purifying Johannesburg's waste water, controlling pollution, supporting biodiversity, and providing green space in a dense urban area. The event drew attention to the value of the wetlands and the consequences of their ongoing degradation, as well as the rehabilitation work being undertaken.
“In the coming year, Working for Wetlands will initiate a process to investigate options and secure funding for rehabilitation of the Klip River wetland. Directly or indirectly, we all derive enormous benefits from wetlands – from water provision to flood attenuation to green spaces for people and wildlife.” she said.
According to the National Wetland Inventory, South Africa is mapped with over 120 000 wetlands which range in size and value and make up 7% of the country’s surface area. Research concurs that the health and well-being of people is intricately linked to the state of their environment of which wetlands are an integral part. Wetlands provide life-support services that sustain our livelihoods. It is an important contribution to the economy as it contributes to household incomes in many areas. In Mbongolwane in northern KwaZulu-Natal women harvest reeds such as induma and ikwane to make conference bags, file covers and corporate gifts which generates an income for their survival.
When wetlands are damaged or degraded they can no longer provide all the services which they had previously supplied and it is therefore of extreme importance to preserve and maintain their natural state. “Since we all benefit from wetlands directly or indirectly, we all have a part to play in maintaining their ability to continue providing these benefits now and in the future,” Mabudafhasi added.