What are wetlands?
Wetlands are areas of land that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently.
Common Names of Wetlands in Zimbabwe
Identification of Wetlands
The following indicators can be used to differentiate Wetlands from other Areas:
Wetness: Wetlands are usually wet for most part of the year.
Soil Type: Dark clay soil which are stick when wet and cracky when dry.
Vegetation: There are obligatory floral species such as reeds.
Importance of Wetlands
Habitat for Fish, Wildlife, and Plants. Fish and wildlife use wetlands as their habitat. Some live only in wetlands for their entire lives; others require wetland habitat for at least part of their life cycle; still others use wetlands much less frequently, generally for feeding. For other, flora and fauna, wetlands provide important seasonal habitats, where food, water, and cover are plentiful. Examples of such species include; bush pig, scrub hare, tortoise and ducks.
Improving water quality and Hydrology. Wetlands greatly influence the flow and quality of water. They help improve water quality, by intercepting surface runoff and removing or retaining inorganic nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing suspended sediments before they reach open water. For example, as runoff passes through wetlands, they retain or process excess nitrogen and phosphorus, decompose organic pollutants, and trap suspended sediments that would otherwise clog waterways and affect fish and development. Some wetlands maintain stream flow during dry periods; others replenish groundwater.
Flood Protection. Wetlands store and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters. Trees and other wetland vegetation also impede the movement of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over floodplains. Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable in this regard, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface-water runoff from pavements and buildings. This protection results in less monetary flood damage costs as well as protection of human health, safety, and welfare.
Economic Benefits of Wetland Resources. We use many natural products from wetlands, including mammals and birds, fish and timber. Similarly, various plants like blueberries, cranberries and mints as well as medicinal herbs are produced in wetlands.
Recreation, Education, and Research. Wetlands provide many recreational, educational, and research opportunities. People hunt, fish, birdwatch or photograph wildlife. In addition, artists and writers capture the beauty of wetlands on canvas and paper, or through cameras, and video and sound recorders.
What drives wetland loss and degradation?
Wetlands often viewed as wasteland and the following result in wetland degradation
Water diversion through dams, dikes and canalisation
Infrastructure development, particularly on wetlands
Impacts of Wetland Degradation
Loss of wetlands translates to loss of fundamental functions they provide. Water retention of wetlands is usually affected by compaction and compression of wetland material due to the several human activities. In Zimbabwe, the progressive loss of wetland ecosystems has caused detrimental effects to society. These include:
Water scarcity in Zimbabwe can be attributed to some extent to the conversion of wetlands to other uses such as; infrastructural development which has turned these vital sources of water to concrete jungles. Communities are therefore urged to sustainably manage wetlands to avert water scarcities that could also come with climate change.
Loss or degradation of wetland habitat results in loss of plant and animal biological diversity. Plants and animals that depend on wetlands for survival might become extinct in the absence of their habitat.
Increased runoff and flash flooding
As a result of reduced infiltration and water retention, episodes of high precipitation (high rainfall) are coupled with flash flooding. Wetlands help in flood control by absorbing excess water and thus reducing flood.
What does the law say about Wetlands?
Wetlands in Zimbabwe are protected by law and authority for their utilisation may be granted by EMA. The Ramsar Convention on wetlands provides for the sustainable use of wetlands.
Send your feedback to; [email protected], like us on Facebook: Environmental Management Agency and Twitter:@EMAeep or visit our website www.ema.co.zw. Alternatively, call us on: Tel 086 77006244 and Toll-free 08080028; or use our WhatsApp platform 0779565707.