31 January 2005

South Africa's wetlands threatened

Wetlands purify water, stop floods and even provide water in times of drought, yet more than half of them have been destroyed in South Africa.

We can't afford to lose any more, warned spokesperson for Mpumalanga's department of agriculture and land affairs, Freddy Ngobe, on Thursday.

"They are important to South Africa, because at the current demand and supply South Africa will run out of water by the year 2030," he explained. "We must start fixing and protecting those that are left."

He made the appeal ahead of World Wetlands Day on February 2.

The slogan for this year's celebration is, "There's wealth in wetland diversity - don't lose it".

Wetlands, with their dense plant matter, act as a huge filter, sieving sediment and pollution from water and purifying it.

They remove nitrates and phosphates from fertilisers, pesticides and household detergents.

Metals like lead and mercury are also removed.

Wetlands control erosion by binding soil together, keeping water cleaner and preventing the erosion of riverbanks further downstream.

"Wetlands are also huge flood-busters," said Ngobe. "The water that hits a wetland during floods is spread out and loses velocity and power."

He said that in times of drought, the sponge-like wetlands release the water absorbed during the rainy season, ensuring that the rivers keep running.

"They're not just a bit of squelchy ground where frogs flourish," he said.


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