South Africa has invested R530 million (about US$53 million) since 2002 to rehabilitate 906 of its deteriorating wetlands, and in the process improving the health of over 70 000 hectares of wetland, vice-minister of water and environmental affairs Rejoice Mabudafhasi said this week.
Mabudafhasi was speaking at the National Wetlands Indaba (conference) in St Francis in the Eastern Cape Province.
This rehabilitation programme, a collaboration between Working for Wetlands Programme, National Wetlands Indaba and Provincial Wetland Forum, has provided 12 848 job opportunities for 2.2 million people, she said.
To date, wetlands cover a total area of over 2.9 million hectares or 2.4% of South Africa’s surface area, according to the 2012 State of Biodiversity report.
But like any other African country where the majority of people do not care about the environment, and believe that environmental issues are a white man’s affair, many of South Africa’s wetlands have been deteriorating at fast pace in the past two decades as a result of human ignorance and men’s ‘complex’ relationship with nature.
More than 7 000 hectares of the country’s remaining peatlands were said to be in an advanced degradation state, resulting in about 300 000 tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in 2008 alone, according to a 2008 assessment.
The minister said: “It is estimated that a further 194 million tons of carbon dioxide could still be released if the remaining healthy peatlands in South Africa were to be degraded.
“As a result, it is vital to understand and pay attention to wetlands and peatlands in South Africa and how they can form part of our response to mitigating and adapting to climate change.”
Mabudafhasi also said that human society was responsible for the management of water and the management of wetlands.
The event was attended by about 200 people, including scientists, government, municipalities, academics and non-profit organisations.
Photo: Knysna Lagoon and Wetlands in the Western Cape (Westforbridge Estate)