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During the official launch of the Bwabwata-Okavango Ramsar last weekend, the Minister of Environment and Tourism Uahekua Herunga, announced that plans are underway to establish a draft national policy on wetlands and a National Committee on Wetlands.
Herunga said that the draft policy on wetlands will provide the policy framework and guidance to the management of wetlands. In addition, the Wetlands committee will act under the Ramsar Convention and spearhead the national wetland programme of the government.
The Ramsar Convention is one of the oldest international conventions, signed in 1971 in the City of Ramsar in Iran. The main focus of the convention then was to protect wetlands as habitats for birds.
Since then, the scope and focus of the convention has expanded to include all aspects of wetland conservation and sustainable use.
Namibia became party to the convention in 1995 and listed four wetlands as wetlands of international importance. The newly- launched Ramsar is Namibia’s fifth site following other wetlands such the Orange River Mouth, Walvis Bay Lagoon, Sandwich Harbour and the Etosha Pan.
The work of the convention has grown significantly in the last four decades and to date over 1 900 wetlands are listed as Ramsar sites representing more than 160 countries.
Herunga said many other wetlands such as the Nyae-Nyae Pans, Kunene River Mouth, and the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe-Zambezi systems are all good candidates for Ramsar listing.
“In future we will focus our efforts in getting these wetland systems designated. Very soon I will direct my directors to identify other Ramsar sites countrywide,” he said.
He also highlighted the importance of wetlands saying they are valuable for all humanity but it seems as if most people do not recognise their value.
“I say this because wetlands are being degraded on a daily basis mainly by human activities. It further seems to me that our communities do not appreciate the services provided by these ecosystems. We need to communicate the value of wetlands and the need for their conservation to the public. That is the responsibility of all of us and not only that of the government,” Herunga explained. The lower section of the Okavango River in the Bwabwata National Park has high biodiversity conservation and tourism value, said Herunga, adding that it supports a number of species listed on the international conservation union’s Red List of Threatened Species such as the African elephant, hippopotamus, lion, endangered grey crowned crane, critically endangered Eurasian bittern and Pel’s fishing owl.
“The listing of the site does not in any way prevent people and local communities from using and benefiting from the wetland and the associated resources. The listing promotes wise use of wetland. Nothing else. I believe that the listing of the site adds significantly to tourism values of the park,” he clarified. Namibia has about 650 bird species and about 400 of such species are found in Kavango alone and has been recorded at the newly-launched site.
The Mahango section of the park is one of the most visited areas in Kavango East Region and because of its many attributes the ministry saw it fit to designate the site as a Ramsar site of international importance. The size of the wetland is 46 964 hectares.
At the same occasion, Kavango East and West regions governor, Samuel Mbambo, highlighted the importance of the river, saying it is the lifeline of the local communities.
“One cannot talk about development, conservation and livelihoods diversification without making reference to the Okavango River. The river is important to us culturally, ecologically and economically and is our source of hope and opportunity. I believe that proper management of the river and its associated resources is only in the best interest of us and our future generations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP) assisted with the development and will continue to work closely with the ministry in managing the Ramsar site.