West Africa takes a leap forward for freshwater conservation

West Africa takes a leap forward for freshwater conservation

8 March 2002

WWF- WARPO Western Africa Regional Program Office 9, Rue cannas B8 Cocody Danga 08 BP 1776 Abidjan 08 Côte d'Ivoire

Abuja, Nigeria, 16 February 2002. WWF today welcomed the government of Guinea's announcement of the designation of new wetlands of international importance in West Africa, at the Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Niger Basin Authority (N.B.A).

Covering more than 4.5 million hectares, these wetlands become the second largest wetland protected area in Africa after Botswana's Okavango Delta. The wetlands in Guinea include the headwaters or source of the Niger River and represent the first contribution to the U.N. International Year of Mountains - 2002 since WWF's call last month on world governments to protect their mountain wetlands. More than 250 species of freshwater fish from 36 different families live in the Niger river; of these, 20 species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. About 25 species of wild mammals and 1000 species of birds depend on the Niger basin habitats.

"For centuries the Niger River basin has been the birthplace of great civilizations of fishermen, farmers, pastoralists." said Souleymane Zeba, WWF's regional representative for West Africa. "Indeed, this river is the cultural, economic and ecological backbone of West Africa".

For the past two years, WWF, the Ramsar Convention Bureau and the Niger Basin Authority have been developing a remarkable Niger River Basin initiative for freshwater conservation in the West African subregion. The Niger River Basin is a focal area for WWF's activities in West Africa which aim at strengthening the conservation and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems. Guinea's announcement is a major step towards the implementation of these common objectives. The Niger Basin Initiative involves WWF, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. As part of the Initiative, the government of Niger announced the designation of half a million hectares of wetlands for protection last June.

The protection of wetlands under the Ramsar Convention means that the governments are making sustainable use of natural wetland resources a priority and setting a precedent for ensuring safe and adequate water for a large population in Africa. Other large-scale freshwater conservation projects are under way with WWF support in Chad and Nigeria, whose new Ramsar Sites are expected to be formally designated in the next few months. It is also expected that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Côte d'Ivoire will add new wetlands to the Niger Basin network of Ramsar sites.

"Africa is making great strides for the protection of freshwater sources and WWF is pleased to be part of the solution, working with committed partners on a freshwater crisis that touches the whole world, and in particular, Africa," said John Barker, WWF's Freshwater Officer for Africa and Madagascar.

For further information:
Frédéric Bambara, Communications Officer, Tel:+225 22 44 87 86,
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager, Living Waters. Tel: +41 22 364 9030