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World Wetlands Day and the challenges of wetlands in Nigeria

This time last week was World Wetlands Day, but I had to write about the more pressing issues of illegal and uncontrolled mining in Nigeria. Today, I want to revisit what I was supposed to write last week for World Wetlands Day – I hope it’s not too late. World Wetlands Day is always observed on February 2nd each year, and it provides an opportune moment to reflect on the state of wetlands globally and their vital role in sustaining biodiversity and environmental balance.

In commemorating World Wetlands Day, it is imperative to shed light on the state of wetlands in Nigeria, an issue demanding urgent attention. According to the United Nations and FAO, Nigeria has witnessed a significant decline in wetland areas, with an estimated loss of 35% between 1993 and 2017. This alarming reduction threatens biodiversity, water quality, and the livelihoods of communities dependent on wetland resources. Rampant urbanization, agricultural expansion, and climate change contribute to this degradation. To ensure a sustainable future, there is an urgent need for concerted efforts, policy reinforcement, and community involvement to preserve and restore these vital ecosystems.

For the uninitiated, let’s start with what wetlands are. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “a wetland is a place in which the land is covered by water – salt, fresh, or somewhere in between – either seasonally or permanently. It functions as its own distinct ecosystem. You can recognize wetlands from other types of land or bodies of water primarily by the vegetation that has adapted to wet soil.”

In Nigeria, the Niger Delta is one of the examples of wetlands in Nigeria because of its network of rivers, creeks, estuaries, and mangrove forests, supporting rich biodiversity and providing habitat for numerous species of plants, birds, and aquatic animals. The Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands in northeastern Nigeria, Omo Forest Reserve in southwestern Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin and Lekki Conservation Centre in Lagos State are other examples of wetlands in Nigeria. So, when you do visit any of these places, you are visiting a wetland. No doubt you can non picture what enormous benefit these water bodies contribute to the environment.

Based on the examples of wetlands I mentioned, you are right if you say Nigeria is home to a variety of wetlands. From freshwater lakes and rivers to mangrove swamps and estuaries. Our beloved nation’s wetlands cover approximately 13 million hectares, constituting a significant portion of our landscape. So, what really is the use of wetlands? Wetlands are invaluable reservoirs of biodiversity, providing habitat for diverse plant and animal species. In Nigeria, wetlands support a wide array of flora and fauna, including numerous endemic and migratory bird species. The Hadejia-Nguru wetlands, for instance, serve as a critical stopover for migratory birds, emphasizing their global importance.

Furthermore, wetlands deliver essential ecosystem services. They act as natural water purifiers, trapping sediments and filtering pollutants, thus contributing to water quality. Wetlands also play a pivotal role in flood control, serving as natural buffers during periods of excessive rainfall or storm surges. The mangrove ecosystems along the coastline act as a natural barrier, mitigating the impacts of coastal erosion and protecting communities residing in these areas.

Despite their ecological significance, Nigeria’s wetlands face an array of challenges that threaten their sustainability. One of the primary issues is habitat loss and degradation due to urbanization, agriculture expansion, and infrastructure development. The rapid growth of cities and agricultural activities has led to the conversion of wetlands into settlements and farmlands, resulting in the loss of critical biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

Pollution poses another formidable threat to Nigeria’s wetlands. Industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and improper waste disposal contribute to water pollution, affecting both the aquatic and terrestrial components of wetland ecosystems. The degradation of water quality in wetlands not only harms resident species but also poses risks to human health and livelihoods, especially those dependent on wetland resources for sustenance.

The impacts of climate change further exacerbate the challenges faced by Nigeria’s wetlands. Changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events pose threats to the delicate balance of these ecosystems. The Niger Delta, already prone to flooding, faces an increased risk due to climate change, with potential consequences for local communities and ecosystems.

While these challenges exist, Nigeria has taken steps to address them and promote wetland conservation. We are a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. This commitment underscores Nigeria’s recognition of the need to balance development with environmental preservation.

Also, collaborative efforts with international organizations such as the United Nations and the FAO have played a crucial role in supporting Nigeria’s wetland conservation initiatives. These partnerships provide technical expertise, funding, and knowledge-sharing platforms that aid in developing and implementing effective conservation strategies.

As we commemorate World Wetlands Day (in advance), it is imperative to acknowledge the critical role that wetlands play in sustaining life on Earth. In Nigeria, the challenges facing these ecosystems require concerted efforts from government bodies, local communities, and international partners to ensure their conservation and sustainable use.

 

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