South Africa: Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi Led the World Wetlands Day Celebrations in Eastern Cape

press release

Today, the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, joined the enthusiastic community of Kareedouw in celebrating the 16th World Wetlands Day in KouKamma Local Municipality, Eastern Cape.

This day of great international importance marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance at the Iranian City of Ramsar, on 2 February 1971. The Ramsar Convention's decision to have "Wetlands and Water Management" with the slogan "Wetlands take care of water" comes as South Africa addresses an important national issue of the scarcity of water through implementation of various interventions.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation. This decision recognises that water is critical for sustainable development, human health and well-being. This calls for conservation of our wetlands and other sources of water, as water is a catalyst for socio-economic development.

"This year, the Department of Environmental Affairs has chosen Kromme River catchment on the basis that it experienced dramatic floods in 2006 which resulted in heavy loss of life and property. In some places the river was gouged down to bedrock level while in others large amounts of sediment were deposited by the receding floodwaters. We are here to evaluate the impact of the interventions we have implemented to address the above mentioned problems", said Mabudafhasi.

Mabudafhasi further said South Africa has limited water resources, government, communities, business, industry and mining sectors- all of us have no choice but to conserve our water sources such as rivers, dams, wetlands, springs, underground water, etc. Wetlands have been cited as having a pivotal role to play because they provide important hydrological functions such as groundwater recharge, water quality improvement and flood alleviation.

The health of wetlands depends on the quality and quantity of water that reaches them. The Kromme River catchment is a significant water source for the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan (NMBM). It supplies about 40% of Port Elizabeth's water, via the Churchill Dam which is situated on the Kromme River. The Mpofu dam also provides water to the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan and is also situated on the Kromme River below the Churchill dam.

This catchment previously contained some of the largest wetlands in South Africa, which regrettably disappeared when an estimated 60% of these valley floor peat basins were lost over the last century, as a result of invasive alien vegetation such as Black Wattle; as well as poorly designed roads and farming activities in the floodplain.

Despite these challenges, the Kromme River still contains several extensive peat deposits, which continue to contribute to the improvement of water quality, attenuation of floods and maintenance of flow in the river.

Since 1996 the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, through the Working for Water Programme, started the extensive eradication of alien invasive vegetation, starting in the upper catchment with the intention of clearing at least as far as the Churchill Dam. The Department of Environmental Affairs supplemented this work in 2001 when the Working for Wetlands Programme kick-started rehabilitating wetlands in the Kromme River catchment.

Over the past 11 years, 11 large gabions and concrete structures have been built at a total cost of over R10 million, to combat erosion that threatened the remaining large, intact wetlands. It is estimated that this work has improved water availability by approximately 32,000 litres of water per day per hectare cleared.

A total of 60 local people from Joubertina and Kareedouw are employed by the Working for Wetlands' projects in the Kromme area and they have also received accredited training focusing on technical, business and life skills. Farmers are also actively involved in the integrated management of the catchment to ensure that the catchment is looked after in totality. They are involved in rehabilitation projects taking place in the area. This initiative improved the agricultural practices.

Nationally, Working for Wetlands has invested 530 million Rands in the rehabilitation of 906 wetlands, thereby improving or securing the health of more than 70,000 hectares of wetland area. In the process, the programme has provided 12,848 employment opportunities.

The Deputy Minister noted with appreciation the increasing number of eco-schools and the emphasis of environmental teachings since she believes strongly that sustaining a legacy can only be achieved through passing on the wisdom to future generations.

The Koukamma municipality is doing a sterling job of making environmental presentations at schools. This effort reassured the Deputy Minister that the transition to Green Economy will in the near future become a reality.

For media queries contact:

Peter Mbelengwa

Cell: 082 611 8197

Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs

1 Feb 2013

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