Guest Blog written by Sh. Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant to celebrate Wetlands Day 2 February 2014. Read Sh.Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant's statement on Princess Vei here. Or find out more about RAMSAR and World Wetlands Day.
The last year has seen a great debacle on the possibility of the destruction of Princess Vlei near Grassy Park due the proposed building of a shopping complex adjacent to the vlei. Princess Vlei and many other wetland sites will come under the spotlight when the world will have a preservation of wetlands sites day on 2 February 2014.
Value of Wetlands
Wetlands consist of floodplains, marshes, bogs, deltas, swamps, peatlands, estuaries, river catchments and lakes. Wetlands vary enormously in size, from tiny village ponds to lakes, bogs, marshes, rivers, and the largest inland delta in the world is the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Wetlands have a rich biological diversity as they provide habitat for a wide variety of species, some of them can live nowhere else, and also provide feeding, roosting and breeding sites for a range of other species They are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, by allowing nutrient recycling. Wetlands support a variety of fish and birds which can be a source of food and they also provide different types of reeds for building materials and handicrafts from which people can fulfill their basic needs and make a living.
A wetland regulates stream flow. It acts as a sponge, slowing down flood waters, storing water when it rains, and then releasing it slowly during the dry season, helping to ensure steady river flow. Special wetland soils such as peat acts as highly effective water stores and filters. Peat is able to hold 1,000 times its own weight in water, which makes it valuable in a semi-arid country like South Africa. Some wetlands also play a role in recharging groundwater.The vegetation in wetlands slows water down and helps reduce flooding and it also reduces soil erosion. Wetlands are uniquely designed to purify water through natural processes; they act like the kidneys of the landscape.
Destruction of Wetlands
Wetland habitats are one of the ecological systems which are most heavily impacted and degraded of all, worldwide. The only factor to which this degradation can be attributed is human interference and mismanagement of what is, essentially, one of the most important elements for life on earth.
Wetlands are being destroyed by human activity, such as infrastructure and also roads that impede on water flow. Conversion of swamps, marshes, lakes and floodplains for agriculture, housing and industrial schemes has led to the world's wetlands shrinking. There are also severe ongoing impacts from pollution and erosion in catchments, excessive water abstraction, loss of vegetation and climate change. In some major catchments, up to 60% of the wetlands are already lost or severely degraded because of mining, agriculture, timber plantations and urban development.
Surplus fertilizer run off into the wetland causes algal blooms or rapid growth of algae in the water. The result is that too much algae depletes all the oxygen in the water thereby killing the plants, fish and animals that live there.
Our Role as a community
It is important that we try our utmost to save as much of the still existing wetlands on earth. If we do that we will be save our ecology system and at the same time care for many of the plant and animal life. This we can learn from the teaching of Nabi Muhammad (SAW) when he was asked about caring for animals he replied:” Yes , there is a reward ( to that one who makes a service) to any living animal.” (Muslim)
On the other side we must not be involved in the destruction of our valuable wetlands which could eventually lead to our own demise, beside the destruction we can cause among the animals and plants. Once again we can reflect on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad [SAW] said: " If you kill a sparrow senselessly, it will hasten to Allah on the Day of Judgment saying : O Rabb! So and So killed me for play and not for use!"(Nasai) this concern the indiscriminant killing of animals. As for the destruction of trees The Prophet Muhammad [SAW] said: "He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], Allah will send him to Hellfire." (Abu Dawud)
As South Africans we can also take the Ramsar convention as our guide to protect our wetlands. The Ramsar Convention which was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. South Africa became part of the RAMSAR treaty on : 21 December 1975. South Africa presently has 21 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 554,136 hectares.
Sh. Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant
Head of Environmental Desk Muslim Judicial Council