By Bennett Oghifo
The federal government has said there is urgent need to ease pressure on the nation’s wetlands from human activities because estimates show that these rare ecosystems are disappearing three times faster than forests.
This dire situation was presented at a webinar to commemorate this year’s World Wetlands Day (WWD), held recently by the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment.
Wetlands are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems. They provide essential services and supply all fresh water. However they continue to be degraded and converted to other uses.
According to ministry, “Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment. They protect our shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else.”
The Niger-Delta is the largest wetland in Africa and the 3rd largest mangrove forest in the world, according to the Minister of State for Environment, Chief Sharon Ikeazor, stating that commemorating the WWD would raise a voice for the restoration of wetlands, especially in the country.
Nigeria has 11 wetlands of international importance (Ramsar Sites). The total area is about 1,076,728 hectares. These sites include: Lake Chad wetlands in Borno State; Dagona Sanctuary Lake, Yobe State; Hadejia-Nguru Lake, Jigawa and Yobe States; Maladumba Lake, Bauchi State; Baturiya wetland, Jigawa; Foge Islands, Kebbi State; Apoi Creek Forests, Bayelsa State; Padam and Wase Lakes, Plateau State, Upper Orashi Forests, Rivers State; Oguta Lake, Imo State and Lower Kaduna-Middle Niger Floodplain, Niger State.
The theme of this year’s event was “Wetlands and Water” and it reflected on challenges of and solutions to the conservation of wetlands in Nigeria.
In his keynote address, the Minister of Environment Dr. Muhammad Mahmood Abubakar, said the functions and importance of wetlands cannot be overemphasised.
He said: “Wetlands contribute immensely to tackling climate change challenges by enhancing the adaptation and resilience capacity of the ecosystems, provide nature-based climate solutions and address socio-economic challenges such as water pollution, erosion, food security, human health and disaster risk management by restoring water catchments.”
He observed that the resources attributed to the wetlands in Nigeria are highly valuable as they contain a variety of reptiles, mammals, amphibians and bird’s species.
“Unfortunately, these rich ecosystems are being threatened and lost at an alarming rate due to population pressure; poverty; deforestation; intensive cultivation; oil and gas exploration, industrial waste pollution; coastal and marine erosion; overgrazing, as well as climate change. We must all recognise the need for urgent intervention,” he added.
Director General of NCF Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, in his presentation titled “Inseparable: Water, Wetlands and Life” identified some basic environmental importance of wetlands as capturing and storing rainwater; replenishing ground water aquifers; regulating water quantity and supply by releasing water at the right time to the right place in the right amounts; improving water quality by removing and absorbing pollutants.
He said, “Wetlands sustain life and keeps us healthy. Healthy watersheds provide natural, safe drinking water and support food production. Wetlands give us much of the fish we eat and is used in cultivating rice for 3.5 billion people globally. Wetlands are important for biodiversity as 40% of world’s species live in wetlands, with 200 new fish species discovered in freshwater wetlands annually.”
He proposed interventions such as awareness creation, habitat restoration, and livelihood improvement as part of solutions to stop further degradation of wetlands and help in their restoration.
In his remark, Mr. Sean Melbourne, Head of Climate Change & Energy West Africa, British High Commission said that wetlands provide some ecosystem services such as water regulation, flood control, water filtration and freshwater supply.
He said, “If rainforests are the lungs of the planet, then wetlands are the kidneys. Wetlands teem with biodiversity, providing homes and hunting grounds for several species and livelihoods for millions of people. They are part of our natural infrastructure, providing essential protection against environmental issues like drought and pollution.”