World Wetlands Day 2004 -- Malawi

04/02/2004

Malawi commemorates Wetlands Day

By Edith Betha

Environmental enthusiasts in Malawi today join the international community in commemorating World Wetlands Day (WWD) under the theme, "From Mountains to the Sea, - Wetlands work for us".

Programme Officer for the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), Hastings Maloya, said in an interview that the theme has been chosen because most wetlands the world over have mountains as the source of water.

"This year we want to send out a reminder for WWD - wetlands are an essential part of our lives. They (wetlands) work for us everyday from the mountains to the coast and it's a responsibility of each one of us to consider how we might help in the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands," said Maloya.

Maloya cited the example of Mulanje Mountain, which is the main source of Lake Chilwa, Malawi's biggest wetland.

Lake Chilwa produces over 20 percent of the fish caught in Malawi and over 50% of the rice harvested in Malawi comes from the Lake Chilwa wetland area which is shared by Zomba, Machinga and Phalombe districts. The three districts are the highest producers of rice, vegetables and Matemba (herrings).

"Wetlands work for us in many ways. They help in storing and purifying water, controlling floods, act as a place for recreation and education, act also as nurseries for fresh water or marine fish and many more," said Maloya.

Maloya said there are also other wetlands in Chikwawa and Nsanje [in southern Malawi] which are fed by the Ruo river which also has its source from Mulanje Mountain and are just as important because they never go dry even when there is no rain.

According to the Coordination Unit for the rehabilitation of the Environment (CURE), this year's Wetlands Day is aimed at increasing awareness on the importance of wetlands and the need to preserve them in an effort to promote integrated management of wetlands in the basin that have been supported by agencies such as SADC [Southern Africa Development Community].

Apart from being used as fisheries, wetlands are important sources of hydro-power and they are also a source of livelihood for a lot of people as they are a reliable source of water.

Research indicates that wetlands world-over are damaged through unwise exploitation of their resources and erosion of their values. However, rehabilitation is very costly if ever accomplished.

* Edith Betha writes for the Nation, Malawi's leading daily newspaper

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