Revival of wetlands important in fight against climate change
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.