Wetland degradation, a big threat to water management in Zambia

In Zambia wetlands occupy more than 20 per cent (150 520 km2) of the country’s total area and contribute to economic development through supporting various economic sectors such as tourism, agriculture, fisheries, forestry among others. They also support livelihoods and provide ecosystem services such as reducing the impacts from storm damage and flooding, maintaining good water quality in rivers, recharging groundwater, storage of carbon and nutrient cycling, help stabilize climatic conditions and control pests. They are also important sites for biodiversity and prevention of soil erosion. Wetlands in Zambia also play a key role in providing habitat to many species of mammals and birds. Additionally, they are a rich source of fish as well as grazing ground for rural pastoralists.

In Zambia wetlands occupy more than 20 per cent (150 520 km2) of the country’s total area and contribute to economic development through supporting various economic sectors such as tourism, agriculture, fisheries, forestry among others. They also support livelihoods and provide ecosystem services such as reducing the impacts from storm damage and flooding, maintaining good water quality in rivers, recharging groundwater, storage of carbon and nutrient cycling, help stabilize climatic conditions and control pests. They are also important sites for biodiversity and prevention of soil erosion. Wetlands in Zambia also play a key role in providing habitat to many species of mammals and birds. Additionally, they are a rich source of fish as well as grazing ground for rural pastoralists.

Despite the many benefits they offer, wetlands in Zambia are threatened by man’s activities  including informal settlements, illegal buildings for commercial purposes, industrial pollution specifically for urban wetlands. Other wetlands in the countryside are threatened by several factors including mismanagement of wetlands such as over cultivation, indiscriminate digging of drains, and overgrazing leading to permanent drying up of wetlands, mining, invasive species and encroachment. Some have been drained so that the land can be used to grow crops, as the local population increased, human activities including hunting and fishing threatened many species within the wetlands. These activities are primarily geared by low income of Zambians, low enforcement of environment law, lack of a specific policy on wetlands which has led to a fragmented approach in their use and management and lack of knowledge on broad importance of wetlands as policymakers, governments and Zambians at large often consider agriculture to be the most productive potential use of a wetland yet in turn making it the greatest threat. Prudent utilization of the wetlands would ensure services provided by wetland are optimized.

As it was predicted by The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 that if wetland loss and degradation continue, it would result in further reductions in human well-being, especially for poor people. Zambian government have now considered wetland restoration and rehabilitation as a national priority and a number of measures have been take include among others establishment of a sustainable source of income for people living in and near the wetlands; development of ecotourism around wetland to provide an alternative source of income for some nearby communities; involving local people in various projects for wetland protection and allow them to have a stronger say on how the wetlands was or would be managed, including Ramsar wise useprinciples on wetland in the curricula of educational institutions and to encourage the participation of local communities and indigenous people including women in the management of wetlands.

As wetlands are regarded and the fact that natural water-living filter may largely being degraded on extent which may affect water quality in Great Lakes region, urgent actions for protection and rehabilitation of these wetlands are needed. This will also help the country to meet international wetlands conservation responsibilities as well as meet other global targets such as the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

The development of a National Policy on Wetlands for Zambia is intended to act as an overarching policy for the coordinated and sustainable management of Zambia’s wetland ecosystems by addressing the threats and challenges to wetlands in order to sustain ecological and socio-economic functions of wetlands for the benefit of present and future generations. Implementation of the National Policy on Wetlands is premised on integrated approaches ensuring that any programmes formulated under it, are linked to other sectoral policies such as those on land, water, air, wildlife, tourism, fisheries, forestry, agriculture and the economy.