World Wetlands Day 2000: South Pacific

02/02/2000

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WWF
South Pacific Program
4 Ma’afu Street
Suva
FIJI

 

Press Release

For immediate release - 2 February, 2000

 

WWF HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF PACIFIC WETLANDS ON WORLD WETLANDS DAY

Ponds, swamps, marshes and river lands which are essential to the supply of clean, fresh water in the Pacific and around the world are being increasingly converted for agriculture, mining and housing, WWF has warned today, World Wetlands Day.

In an issues paper to mark World Wetlands Day (an initiative of the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands) World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has documented evidence to show that half of the world’s wetlands have already been lost.

The issues paper warns of a looming global freshwater crisis as more and more wetlands are damaged by human intervention. The threats to the Pacific’s important wetlands include the use of rivers for mining waste disposal; the siltation of rivers and streams caused by destructive logging practices; and the arrival of invasive species such as carp and weeds like water lily and water hyacinth.

WWF estimates that within 25 years, two in three people around the world could face drastically low water supplies. Of the world’s six billion people, more than a billion already lack access to safe drinking water, while almost half lack adequate sanitation.

In Fiji, WWF is documenting the country’s important watersheds and river systems to build a more accurate picture of the extent of human activities such as mining, agriculture and logging that are affecting river health. Last year, WWF carried out an inventory of all the wetlands in Fiji where the weaving plant, kuta, grows. In Vanua Levu, kuta growing areas have been found to have been severely affected by decades of land clearing for housing and sugar cane farming.

In Papua New Guinea, WWF is working closely with communities to help protect the vast Sepik River – one of the world’s most significant wetlands. Among the threats to the relatively unspoilt Sepik catchment is a plan for a copper and gold mine on the Frieda River which flows into the Sepik. The mining company behind the Frieda mine, has not made known its plans for how it will dispose of the mine’s wastes but the most likely scenario is to dump the tailings into the river or pipe them to the coast.

Elsewhere in PNG, the mining industry has caused severe damage to wetlands such as the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers where local communities can no longer drink the water or catch fish.

In Solomon Islands, crucial wetlands such as those of Vella Lavella island have been severely affected by the oxygen choking water hyacinth weed. WWF is working with communities to find solutions to the weed problem.

WWF is urging governments around the world to give greater legal protection to wetlands and ensure that the people who depend for their survival upon rivers, streams and wetlands are involved in all decision-making about their future use.

For more information, contact: Elisabeth Mealey at WWF South Pacific Program. Phone: 679-315533 or email: emealey@wwfpacific.org.fj

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