Photo: UNEP GRID-Arendal/Peter Prokosch

Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thompson is calling on South Africans to get involved in the protection and conservation of wetlands in the country.

Speaking ahead of the annual World Wetland day celebrations Thompson said wetlands are an important part of the ecosystem, as they provide a number of benefits, not only to the natural environment, but also to the people’s livelihoods.

From wetlands to wastelands

These benefits include the reduction of flooding, replenishing of drinking water, filtering of waste, and provision of urban green spaces.

She said the benefits become more crucial as the number of people living in cities continues to increase.

“In urban areas, wetlands act as crucial ‘green lungs’ for the cities by improving water quality and serving as reservoirs, containing run-offs from roads, drains, roofs and storm water drains.

Despite their vital role the department noted that urban wetlands have largely been regarded as wastelands, with their importance and functions not being fully understood.

Working for wetlands

Working to counteract this the department through its Working for Wetlands Programme which is implemented through the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) methodology has improved more than 80 000 hectares of wetland area, while providing 17 575 employment opportunities.

The programme, which focuses on rehabilitation, restoration maintenance and protection interventions to ensure healthy 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.

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