Re­vival of wet­lands im­por­tant in fight against cli­mate change

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Big Read - Vin­cent Gono Fea­tures Ed­i­tor

THE scope of con­ser­va­tion of wa­ter and its sources in the coun­try has ma­jorly been limited to lakes, dams, tanks and other man-made wa­ter reservoirs.

Lit­tle at­ten­tion has how­ever, been paid to the nat­u­ral sources of so many rivers and peren­nial streams that feed into the var­i­ous cre­ations of man the wet­lands which are part of the aquatic ecosys­tems while their many eco­log­i­cal func­tions have equally been ig­nored.

In fact peo­ple have taken it upon them­selves to dis­turb these eco­log­i­cal sites with reck­less aban­don while ig­nor­ing the big­ger catas­tro­phe they will be caus­ing in the process cli­mate change.

And per­haps due to a com­bi­na­tion of ar­ro­gance, ig­no­rance and fail­ure of a strict pol­icy by the Govern­ment to pro­tect these im­por­tant ar­eas, the coun­try has lived to see var­i­ous state of the art build­ings be­ing erected on wet­lands.

The im­por­tance of these eco­log­i­cal ar­eas can there­fore never be overem­pha­sised. They need to be re­vived as their con­tin­ued dis­tur­bance se­ri­ously threat­ens food se­cu­rity in the coun­try.

One won­ders there­fore whether the leg­is­la­tion that pro­tects wet­lands that states that it is il­le­gal to cul­ti­vate or build in wet­lands be­fore get­ting ap­proval from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency (Ema) is just a rhetoric and loud sound­ing state­ment whose ap­pli­ca­bil­ity is pain­ful or whether its ap­pli­ca­bil­ity is se­lec­tive.

The coun­try how­ever, has a rich and clear leg­isla­tive am­mu­ni­tion on wet­lands pro­vided in sec­tion 113 of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Act (Chap­ter 20:27), a Statu­tory In­stru­ment 7 of 2007 of the En­vi­ron­ment Im­pact Assess­ment (EIA and the Ecosys­tems Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tions) which pro­vides for the min­is­ter to de­clare any wet­land to be an eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive area and gives him the power to im­pose lim­i­ta­tions on de­vel­op­ment in or around such an area.

But by al­low­ing that cer­tain state of the art build­ings be erected on such pro­hib­ited ar­eas they have prob­a­bly as­sumed that in­vest­ment was more valu­able that it has to be al­lowed to dis­turb the ecosys­tem even for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. They have de­spised those who planned the cities and made them look like they did not know what they were do­ing when they erected no build­ings on wet­lands.

Some have made it their busi­ness to dump waste on these eco­log­i­cal sites of im­por­tance, thereby dis­turb­ing the flora and fauna found on them. And apart from a com­pre­hen­sive and of­ten not fol­lowed leg­isla­tive frame­work the coun­try is a mem­ber of the Con­ven­tion on Wet­lands of In­ter­na­tional Im­por­tance, called the Ram­sar Con­ven­tion an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal treaty that pro­vides the frame­work for na­tional ac­tion and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion for the con­ser­va­tion and wise use of wet­lands and their re­sources.

The Ram­sar Con­ven­tion is the only global en­vi­ron­men­tal treaty that deals with a par­tic­u­lar ecosys­tem. The treaty was adopted in the Ira­nian city of Ram­sar in 1971 and the Con­ven­tion’s mem­ber coun­tries cover all ge­o­graphic re­gions of the planet.

By defini­tion a wet­land is an area that is sea­son­ally or per­ma­nently cov­ered by shal­low wa­ter or an area where the wa­ter ta­ble is close to or at the sur­face where there are wa­ter sat­u­rated soils and wa­ter tol­er­ant plants.

En­vi­ron­ment, Wa­ter and Cli­mate Min­is­ter Op­pah Muchin­guri–Kashiri said re­cently that wet­lands were very im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal ar­eas that should col­lec­tively be pre­served and re­vived es­pe­cially in light of the rains that the coun­try re­ceived last sea­son.

She said those who have cho­sen to erect build­ings on wet­lands were ei­ther mis­in­formed or ig­no­rant of the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance of wet­lands say­ing they see in wet­lands open spa­ces which they were not. Min­is­ter Muchin­guri-Kashiri said the erec­tion of any build­ing in wet­lands was sup­posed to be green-lighted by her min­istry through Ema.

“The erec­tion of build­ings and dump­ing of waste that pol­lutes our wet­lands is a pun­ish­able offence. Wet­lands are a source of so many rivers. They help keep a lot of wa­ter as well as pu­rify it to an ex­tent where there will be no need for our lo­cal author­i­ties to use more than eight chem­i­cals to pu­rify wa­ter. The use of eight or more chem­i­cals to pu­rify wa­ter speaks vol­umes that our wet­lands have been grossly tem­pered with and pol­luted. There­fore those who dump waste are dis­turb­ing the nat­u­ral ecosys­tem.

“With the chal­lenges that peo­ple are fac­ing, they are be­gin­ning to take the preser­va­tion of wet­lands se­ri­ously. And I hope it’s not too late es­pe­cially with the nec­es­sary aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion for us to pre­serve what is left of our wet­lands as a coun­try,” said Min­is­ter Muchin­guriKashiri.

She said po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity was usu­ally a re­sult of in­suf­fi­cient food sup­plies due to a dis­tur­bance in the hy­dro­log­i­cal cy­cle say­ing in such cases peo­ple blame the Govern­ment and could lead to up­ris­ings and food riots.

Wet­lands at least ac­cord­ing Ema pro­vide an im­por­tant habi­tat for a wide va­ri­ety of wildlife, trap mod­er­ate amounts of soil run­ning off nearby up­lands be­fore they en­ter lakes and streams. They main­tain and im­prove wa­ter qual­ity by fil­ter­ing con­tam­i­nants and ex­ces­sive nutri­ents as well as re­new ground­wa­ter sup­plies.

Wet­lands also help con­trol flood­ing and re­duce flood dam­age and fur­ther sup­port recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing fish, hunt­ing, na­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion, and bird watch­ing and are a source of eco­nom­i­cally valu­able prod­ucts such as wild rice and com­mer­cial fish­ing.

How­ever, the chal­lenges cur­rently fac­ing wet­lands in the coun­try are twofold in that while they are threat­ened and fac­ing extinction from peo­ple’s ac­tions, they also risk a big­ger phe­nom­e­non of cli­mate change.

With cli­mate change the fre­quency of droughts has re­duced wa­ter avail­abil­ity re­sult­ing in the wa­ter ta­ble drop­ping (low­er­ing of) to con­sid­er­able depths that af­fect crop and bio­di­ver­sity to ac­cess be­low ground wa­ter.

Cli­mate Change Co-or­di­na­tor in the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, Wa­ter and Cli­mate Mr Wash­ing­ton Zhakata said el­e­vated tem­per­a­tures caused by cli­mate change were en­hanc­ing evap­o­ra­tive losses, and as pre­cip­i­ta­tion is grad­u­ally de­creas­ing, there are signs of re­duced run-off and dis­charge into the rivers from the wet­lands.

“In­di­rectly, wa­ter ab­strac­tion has also in­creased in wet­lands in some ar­eas as well as dry up in non-wet­land ar­eas. Wa­ter stor­age in lakes and reservoirs is be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected by changes in pre­cip­i­ta­tion and en­hanced evap­o­ra­tion. Many rivers and reservoirs have ei­ther ceased to have an out­flow or have dried com­pletely dur­ing drought con­di­tions. The chang­ing cli­mate is also al­ter­ing or ham­per­ing an­i­mal mi­gra­tions,” he said.

Mr Zhakata added that there were many deriva­tions from wet­lands such as hunt­ing, fish­ing and bird watch­ing.

“Hunt­ing, fish­ing, bird-watch­ing, and na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy are just a few of the many ac­tiv­i­ties that peo­ple en­joy in wet­lands. At first, peo­ple were not sure about the ben­e­fits pro­vided by wet­lands. Peo­ple are now start­ing to re­alise the im­por­tance of wet­lands and are tak­ing ac­tions to pro­tect them. Wet­lands can be pro­tected by pass­ing strin­gent laws and pro­mot­ing pro­grams that help pro­tect ex­ist­ing wet­lands. Peo­ple should not be al­lowed to drain, fill, or build on a wet­land un­less they re­ceive a per­mit”.

He said wet­lands pre­vent flood­ing by hold­ing wa­ter much like a sponge adding that by do­ing so, wet­lands help keep river lev­els nor­mal and fil­ter and pu­rify the sur­face wa­ter.

Re­search has shown that wet­lands ac­cept wa­ter dur­ing storms and when­ever wa­ter lev­els are high. When wa­ter lev­els are low, wet­lands slowly re­lease wa­ter. Wet­lands also re­lease veg­e­ta­tive mat­ter into rivers, which helps feed fish in the rivers.

Wet­lands help to counter bal­ance the hu­man ef­fect on rivers by re­ju­ve­nat­ing them and sur­round­ing ecosys­tems. Many an­i­mals that live in other habi­tats use wet­lands for mi­gra­tion or re­pro­duc­tion. For ex­am­ple, some birds nest in large old trees, but need shal­low ar­eas in or­der to wade for fish and aquatic life. Am­phib­ians of­ten for­age in up­land ar­eas but re­turn to the wa­ter to mate and re­pro­duce.

En­vi­ron­ment Africa coun­try di­rec­tor Mr Barn­abas Mawire said wet­lands were im­por­tant in that they reg­u­late hy­dro­log­i­cal pro­cesses apart from them be­ing home to a num­ber of an­i­mal and plant species.

He added that they have a so­cio­cul­tural value at­tached to them and tem­per­ing with them neg­a­tively af­fect their cul­tural value be­cause in some ar­eas they were deemed sa­cred where peo­ple at­tach a strong cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance on them.

“Wet­lands are im­por­tant in that they reg­u­late hy­dro­log­i­cal pro­cesses such as evapo-tran­spi­ra­tion and run-off. Tem­per­ing with them there­fore causes the ef­fects of cli­mate change to be more ap­par­ent. Eco­nom­i­cally, the sit­u­a­tion that we have where lo­cal author­i­ties use more than eight chem­i­cals to pu­rify wa­ter is ev­i­dence that wet­lands that help pu­rify wa­ter have been de­stroyed and the costs are usu­ally borne by the peo­ple.

“Dump­ing of waste on wet­lands should there­fore be pun­ish­able and nec­es­sary ed­u­ca­tion given for peo­ple to have ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal sites,” said Mr Mawire adding that the coun­try was sup­posed to make sure that wet­lands were re­stored.

“The holis­tic na­ture of restora­tion, in­clud­ing the rein­tro­duc­tion of an­i­mals, is im­por­tant. The ob­jec­tive is to em­u­late a nat­u­ral, self-reg­u­lat­ing sys­tem that is in­te­grated eco­log­i­cally with the land­scape in which it oc­curs. Of­ten, restora­tion re­quires one or more of the fol­low­ing pro­cesses: re­con­struc­tion of an­tecedent phys­i­cal con­di­tions; chem­i­cal ad­just­ment of the soil and wa­ter; and bi­o­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing the rein­tro­duc­tion of ab­sent na­tive flora and fauna.”

He added that an En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Assess­ment (EIA) should al­ways be car­ried out be­fore any de­vel­op­ments could be done on wet­lands and Ema should al­ways en­sure that due pro­cesses were fol­lowed.

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