About half of South Africa's wetlands have already been destroyed or converted through draining, the building of dams, incorrect burning and overgrazing, invasive alien species, waste disposal, water abstraction, agricultural, urban development and inappropriate land management.
These losses are expected to increase as the human population grows and demand for water resources and land expands.
Many communities across Africa are directly dependent on wetlands to harvest reeds for crafts, grow crops in wetland fields and extract water for drinking.
They also obtain medicinal plants from wetlands, and at least 70 percent of South Africans are believed to use traditional medicine as their primary form of health care.
Wetlands also provide indirect, but essential services, such the purification of water contaminated by industrial and domestic waste through physical filtration and dissolution of chemicals.
Furthermore, wetlands mitigate floods and droughts by slowing down the flow of the water during the rainy season and storing water for release in the dry season. In this way they reduce the impact of natural disasters and reduce soil erosion, which would otherwise mean the loss of arable land and potable water.
Wetlands have for millennia provided breeding and feeding habitats for birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Wetlands are thus rich in biodiversity and are important stop-overs for many migratory species, while some species are dependent on wetlands for breeding.
Wetland conservation is not only about the rural people who are directly dependent on them for their survival, but affects all human beings and several other species. Every wetland forms an integral part of a natural ecological system that supports human well-being and biodiversity. This applies to wetlands of all types irrespective of size or location.
Illustration: SA Government, former department of water affars and forestry