Southern African wetland region to become world’s largest protected freshwater site
An area of the Democratic Republic of Congo containing the largest body of fresh water in Africa has been added to the Ramsar Convention’s list of Wetlands of International Importance, making it the largest region ever to be designated as such.
At more than six-and-a-half million hectares, the Ngiri-Tumba-Maingombe area is twice the size of Belgium and has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity anywhere in the world. It is also a major carbon sink.
"WWF is delighted that Ramsar has recognized the importance of this extraordinary wetland and the efforts of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect it," said James P. Leape, Director General of WWF International. "This is a significant step forward for the welfare of communities who depend on this wetland for their livelihoods and for the wildlife that lives there."
Recognition by the Convention, which was signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, means that there is now a framework to conserve the wetland, which is under threat from illegal logging, fishing and poaching, and a decline in water levels that is most likely attributable to climate change.
In addition, proper management will help to maintain the ecosystem services that the site already provides, and ensure that its defences remain robust in the face of unpredictable environmental changes;
"The Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe area contributes to the regulation of flooding and regional climate and ensures that the quality of the water remains good enough for millions of people who depend upon it," said WWF project Manager Bila-Isia Ingwabini.
Wetlands, however, do not merely provide water for drinking and sanitation. The commercial value that can be derived from them is noteworthy. It is hoped that prudent and measured extraction of resources, including palm oil, groundnuts and fish, will contribute to sustainable economic growth for nearby cities such as Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
Globally, the total economic value of wetlands is estimated at more than $70 billion.