Harare Province held celebrations of World Wetlands Day on the 10th of February 2017. The event held at Mukuvisi Woodlands was spearheaded by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) together with its partners; City of Harare, UNICEF, ZUNA, Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO), Birdlife Zimbabwe, Community Alliance and Mukuvisi Woodlands. World Wetlands Day is an opportunity for the world to learn about the value and importance of wetlands. Why should you care? Consider what wetlands do for you.
Wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. They serve as a sponge, soaking up rainfall and slowly releasing it over time. They are also useful as natural sewage treatment works, absorbing chemicals, filtering pollutants and sediments, breaking down suspended solids and neutralizing harmful bacteria. Wetlands provide ecological services such as flood control, carbon storage and food production. They absorb and replenish water to buffer our communities from flood and drought risks and act as vital nesting and feeding grounds for waterfowl while providing a nursery habitat for fish. At least half of our wildlife species rely on wetlands for at least part of their lifecycle. Wetlands are fast disappearing due to the development of roads, cities and drainage for agriculture. Many wetlands provide recreational opportunities such as walking, hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and canoeing.
As the world grapples with the impact of a changing climate, Zimbabwe is well positioned to make a difference on a local scale by protecting our wetlands. Zimbabwe now has seven Ramsar sites – wetlands of international importance, acknowledged as such under the 1971 Ramsar Convention, a move that demonstrates the southern African country’s commitment to promote wetlands conservation and sustainable development worldwide. These Ramsar sites include: the Monavale Vlei, Cleveland Dam, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero, Driefontein Grasslands, Chinhoyi Caves and the Victoria Falls National Park. These wetlands are among over 2,200 recognised Ramsar sites around the world. This year Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world to mark the World Wetlands Day on February 2nd under the theme which was dubbed, “Wetlands for disaster reduction”.
Alarmingly, the global extent of wetlands is estimated to have declined by as much as 71 per cent since 1900, according to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Most of the country’s wetlands, including Monavale Vlei, Lake Chivero and Victoria Falls were once on the verge of complete destruction through construction in the area but intense lobbying from civil society organisations including COSMO and Birdlife Zimbabwe has saved the wetlands. Areas which used to have water at between 15m and 18m below the earth surface, has gone down to 30m in some parts of Harare owing to the destruction of wetlands. All around the world, wetlands are amongst the most threatened of habitats. It is estimated that nearly three quarters of the world’s inland wetlands have been lost over the last century. Canalizing rivers and limiting drainage reduces the natural floodplain sponge effect and makes flood surges more powerful. Draining or filling in wetlands for agriculture and development removes their function as a natural sponge against flooding. This highlights that globally, mismanaging wetlands can make disasters worse.
Speaking at the occasion the Guest of Honour, Provincial Affairs Minister for Harare Metropolitan Province Cde. Miriam Chikukwa echoed the pivotal and crucial role played by wetlands in our daily lives. The Minister highlighted a number of threats on wetlands such as the pollution, illegal logging and encroachment from construction projects. She also encouraged the people of Harare and the nation at large to take care of the Wetlands in ensuring environmental sustainability. This year’s theme, “Wetlands for disaster reduction” has proved to be a mettle as evidenced by floods that rocked Harare’s Borrowdale Suburb, Tsholotsho, Masvingo and Kuwadzana among other areas that left people homeless as well as loss of valuable property and life.
For communities this may involve adopting practices that ensure long- term sustainability of the local wetlands for everyone with measures such as controlling illegal fishing and dumping, setting catch limits and clearing rubbish from wetlands thus unblocking streams and rivers. For policy-makers this may entail local government including wetlands in their strategy for coping with disasters.
Additional measures key for all in protecting our wetlands:
> Designate wetlands in flood- and storm-prone zones as protected areas.
> Restore degraded wetlands that act as protective barriers.
> Work with local stakeholders and civil society to promote sustainable agriculture, fisheries and tourism.
> Adopt cross sectoral policies especially in agriculture and water to help protect wetlands.
> Wetlands clean-ups.
> Become a Wetland Ambassador and or advocate for wetlands like WWF.
> Use water more sparingly and avoid toxic products that drain into wetlands. Participate in actions to conserve and restore wetlands.
Children should know about wetlands as they are the ones who are being affected the most by the effects of degraded wetlands and related environmental disasters. If we do not care about our wetlands this may result in flooding, loss of lives, outbreak of typhoid, diarrhoea, cholera caused by drinking dirty water. UNICEF is concerned about capacitating children with adequate knowledge, information and education on the roles played by Wetlands in curbing these environmental risks and disasters. Without any equivocation, it is important to engage children on issues pertaining wetlands in ensuring environmental sustainability and at the same time saving the children as well. Children and youths are very passionate about their environment, evidenced by the activities they are carrying out in their respective schools and communities which are promoting environmental sustainability. The children and youth engaged fully with the world wetlands day and demonstrated their understanding through animated drama, poetry, plays and dance. Children have a voice, and a right to use it and as UNICEF promotes the rights and well being of every child, in everything we do- we advocate that they too shall have an opportunity to understand and to voice these key issues regarding sustainable environmental management. By empowering young people to push the boundaries of the possible and unleash their potential, we are enabling them to create a future they want.