World Wetlands Day is marked on the 2nd of February every year since 1971, after the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The focus for this year is the impact of natural disasters, particularly drought, on wetland ecosystem. There will also be attention on wetlands in mitigating the effect of natural phenomena, including those worsened by human activities. This seeks to buttress how healthy wetlands can increase resilience to climate change and the effects of extreme weather conditions. It will help to ensure that climate change responses do not lead to serious damage to the ecological character of wetlands. Sustainable wetland management and the restoration of wetlands are critical in protecting communities from some natural disasters and to integrate them into relevant policies at the national level.
This year’s celebration also seeks to acknowledge how wetlands can reduce disaster risks, by acting as natural buffers or protective barriers against land erosion, dust and sand storms, flood surges, tsunamis and landslides. It will help store large volumes of water thereby reducing peak flood flow during the rainy seasons while maximizing water storage during the dry season. According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the planet’s freshwater marshes, deltas, swamps and wetlands are home to 40 percent of the entire world’s species and 12 percent of animal species. The case for restoring wetlands is therefore a strong one, even on climate grounds; since it soaks up carbon dioxide.
Wetlands act as natural flood protection as they trap and slowly release surface water over time. This ability to store water in times of increased rainfall helps to prevent flooding. Draining wetlands for housing development and farmlands has removed many of these natural defenses, leaving surrounding areas vulnerable to increased flooding. People who live near such water bodies, get fish for their protein requirement and in some instances it serve as their main source of livelihood. The salt mining industry in the Ada Songhor enclave is known to provide thousands of jobs for the inhabitants in that area. Despite these benefits, wetlands are often under threat from human activities like encroachment and pollution.
It is sad to see the deplorable state of Ghana's water bodies such as the Sakumo Ramsar Site, the Korle and Chemu Lagoon and the ever popular Odaw River, the Kpeshie Lagoon all in Accra and the Songhor Lagoon in Ada. Wetlands are vital to all human lives. There are several instances where developers have encroached on wetlands for development projects. It is therefore sad to note that most residents who live near such water bodies see them as dumping sites for their refuse while industries too dump their industrial waste into such places. Such activities deprive these water bodies from performing their natural functions of protecting the ecology and humans. The June 3 Disaster which claimed over 159 lives, and its accompanying destruction property running into millions of Ghana cedis, is a reminder to appreciate wetlands in preventing natural disasters such as floods.
The time has come to enforce land use plans, provide local level disaster contingency plans and involve communities in development planning to reduce the risk of natural disasters. Let us preserve the wetlands to generate foreign exchange for the country. While a change in attitude by all Ghanaians is needed, the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology, the National Wetlands Committee and NGOs should continue with the public awareness creation and law enforcement to ensure individuals and industries do the right thing.
Collectively, we should ensure our wetlands are not encroached upon by squatters.
BY: FANNY NANA ASAMOA, A JOURNALIST WITH GHANA TELEVISION.