The Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi today, 17 February 2017 has on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson led a public awareness drive to commemorate the World Wetlands Day (WWD) under the theme: “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” at the Esselen Park Wetlands Pan in Tembisa, Gauteng Province.
The WWD is an annual commemoration of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) signed on 02 February 1971 in the Iranian City of Ramsar, with South Africa formally becoming a member in 1975.
The annual celebration of the WWD is aimed at raising public awareness on direct and indirect benefits of wetlands in particular the role that they play in disaster risk reduction, their benefits to humanity, and also encouraging the participation of local communities in promoting the wise use of wetlands for their long term sustainability.
Given the strategic importance of wetlands, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) runs the Working for Wetlands Programme which is implemented through the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) methodology. The programme focuses on rehabilitation, maintenance and protection interventions to ensure healthy wetlands.
Since 2002, Working for Wetlands has invested R725 million in the rehabilitation of 1, 011 wetlands countrywide. This has improved or secured the health of more than 80,000 hectares of wetland area. In the process, the Programme has provided 17,575 employment opportunities, with 2.3 million person days worked to date. In line with the emphasis of the EPWP on training, Working for Wetlands has also provided 180, 753 days of training in both vocational and life skills. Teams that form part of the Programme are made up of a minimum of 60% women, 20% youth and 2% people with disabilities.
The Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi highlighted the benefits and importance of Wetlands, “In South Africa Wetlands have enormous economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits. It is however sad to note that, to date, we have lost an estimated 50% of wetlands in the country due to unsustainable use and poor land management. This is why as government, non-governmental organisations, civil society at large, communities and other stakeholders, we need to come together to educate and raise awareness in our communities about the values, wise use and importance of wetlands with the aim of protecting and conserving them for the benefit of current and future generation.”
“We also need to highlight that if sustainably managed, wetlands play a significant role in protecting and improving water quality, providing habitat for fish and wildlife, flood reduction and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods, among others. These valuable functions are a result of the unique natural characteristics which wetlands provide,” said Mabudafhasi.
She further explained, “The Esselen Park Wetland we visited today was once a degraded wetland. However, as part of the government’s commitments and in its efforts to address poverty, fighting unemployment and enhancement of economic opportunities especially in poor townships and rural communities, the Gauteng Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with the National Department of Environmental Affairs partnered to restore and rehabilitate the Esselen Park Wetlands”.
“This was done through the Expanded Public Works Programme, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Rand Water Foundation, and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. During the period when this wetland was rehabilitated, over 50 job opportunities were created for a period of 9 months and amongst the beneficiaries were women and youth. Government spent over R 2 million in two financial years as part of the rehabilitation of this important wetland”, said Mabhudafhasi.
The DEA will continue to make significant investments in the conservation, management and restoration of wetlands through implementation of the Ramsar Convention and the Working for Wetlands Programme, to ensure healthy wetlands that will improve water quality and water supplies.
Issued by Department of Environmental Affairs