Saturday, 9 February 2013

Zimbabwe joins Ramsar Convention

Peter Roberts

Zimbabwe has joined to the Ramsar Convention family as its 164th Contracting Party.

It was also confirmed in January that seven sites in Zimbabwe have been identified as potential Wetlands of International Importance (Victoria Falls National Park, Mana Pools, Monavale Wetland, Lake Chivero and Manyame, Driefontein Grasslands, Chinhoyi Caves, and Cleveland Dam) and were submitted on 3 January 2013.

The Ramsar Information Sheets for these new sites are still being prepared by the government, and we will be posting more details as soon as they are made available.

On the 1st February 2013 Ramsar Secretary General Sir Anada Tiega visited Malilangombe wetlands in the Matobo district of Matebeleland province to commemorate the landmark and celebrate 2013 World Wetlands Day with Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhema, highlighted the importance of wetland conservation and the wider role they play. “Wetlands deliver essential environmental,social and economic goods and services such as local level climate control, flood mitigation, food and act as regulators and providers of water. The link between water resources management and the wise use of wetlands cannot be separated.”

What are Wetlands?

Wetlands vary according to origin, geography, water regime, chemistry, vegetation and soil characteristics. The term wetland has only come into use since the 1960s, and has generally come to mean any area of land of which the soil is permanently or temporally flooded with water - but definitions of wetlands vary.

The Ramsar Convention takes a broad approach in determining the wetlands which come under its aegis, and defines wetlands are defined as: “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres” (Ramsar Information Sheet No 1).

Why Conserve Wetlands?

The natural benefits and values of wetlands, which may be felt within the wetland itself or some way away from it (for example in the case of wetlands which absorb floods), can include sediment and erosion control; flood control; maintenance of surface and underground water supply and quality; abatement of pollution and even contributions to climatic stability.

Destruction of wetlands means either that these functions have to be provided artificially at considerable cost, or that the wetland has to be restored, which costs even more. Dr L Hoffmann, in his Foreword to ‘The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: its History and Development’ (1993): "Thousands of millions, probably hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars, are spent each year in the industrialized world in order to restore the hydrological and biological functions - functions which would be free of charge if wetlands had been conserved. Ground water protection and water purification measures, in particular, swallow enormous sums. The re-establishment of formerly drained wetlands is therefore becoming more and more discussed. This is often considered an ‘expensive joke’, but actually it is a very wise step towards a better economy in the future."

Wetlands are among the most productive life-support systems in the world and are of immense socio-economic and ecological importance to mankind. They are critical for the maintenance of biodiversity and perform a great role in the biosphere. They are also cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. They support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. Wetlands are also important storehouses of plant genetic material. Rice, for example, which is a common wetland plant, is the staple diet of more than half of humanity.

Wetlands provide tremendous economic benefits: water supply (quantity and quality); fisheries; agriculture, through the maintenance of water tables and nutrient retention in floodplains; timber production; energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; wildlife resources; transport; and recreation and tourism opportunities.

What is the Ramsar Convention?

The ‘Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Wildfowl Habitat’, is an international treaty adopted at the International Conference on Conservation of Wetlands and Waterfowl held at Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The Convention came into force in 1975 and whilst it is still officially referred to as ‘The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)’, it soon became widely known as the ‘Ramsar Convention’. The great importance of wetlands as keystone habitats for the conservation of natural biodiversity was first recognised by European ornithologists in the 1960s who were concerned by the rapid loss of wetlands habitat critical to the survival of migratory waterbirds and initiated development of an international treaty to conserve wetlands across national boundaries.

The trans-national nature of wetland systems made their conservation and management an international issue, with many wetlands traversing national boundaries. The Ramsar Convention was the first of the modern global inter-governmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources - the official name of the treaty, The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, reflects the original emphasis upon the conservation and wise use of wetlands primarily as habitat for waterbirds. Over the years, however, the Convention has broadened its scope of implementation to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognising wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of human communities.

The mission of the Ramsar Convention, as adopted by the Parties in 1999 and refined in 2002, is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

By recognizing the importance of wetland resources, the Convention has been instrumental in world wide action at the governmental level for conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Further Information

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

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