Harnessing the power of Earth Observation data for wetlands conservation and human well-being.

: Key stakeholders speakers share insights during the World Wetlands Day 2024 Webinar held on 02 February 2024.

As the world celebrates World Wetlands Day 2024, under the theme “Wetlands and Human Well-being”, the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) joins the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) for a webinar in alignment with the theme “Contribution of Earth Observation Data to the knowledge and accuracy of Wetland Economic Value Assessment”.   The webinar aimed to discuss and create awareness on benefits of using products and services derived from Earth Observation (EO) data to better understand wetlands in terms of health status, quantity, spatial distribution, and economic value.

The webinar that took place on 02 February 2024, solidified the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding Agreement (MoU) of 2023 between SASSCAL, CSE and RCMRD intended to leverage collective efforts toward restoring Africa’s wetlands. The MoU also provides a framework for collaboration and cooperation in research, capacity building and supporting Earth Observation for sustainability development opportunities. Additionally, one of the areas of collaboration is the upscaling and operationalization of the geoportal to improve on products and services rendered to users in wetlands.

MoU signed on the 27 February 2023: Dr Emmanuel Nkurunziza on behalf of the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), Dr. Jane Olwoch representing SASSCAL and Dr Cheikh Mbow representing CSE.

The webinar brought together experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss the contribution of Earth observation data in the knowledge and accuracy of assessing the economic value of wetlands and the overall importance of wetlands and their benefits to human well-being.

Dr Jane Olwoch, the Executive Director of SASSCAL in her opening statement recognizes that wetlands serve humans and their livelihoods and linked its importance to national policies and global goals.

National policies such as the RAMSAR Convention on wetlands, the River Basin Water Commission policy, the Regional Protocol on Shared Watercourses, the Regional Water Policy, the 4th Ramsar Strategic Plan for 2016-2024, the African Space Policy and global goals particularly  the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) 2,6,8,9,11,13,14,15 and 17,  have established important measures for the restoration of wetlands for sustainable development by:

  • Integrating wetlands’ international decision-making processes;
  • Ensuring that wetlands services are fully considered as a solution for land and water management;
  • Committing to protect biodiversity in the ecosystems, and
  • Ensuring the participation of communities.

She emphasized that the above-mentioned will enable the management of wetlands and encourage action to assess the risks of operations in wetlands and their dependents. Dr Olwoch further expressed her delight in the key stakeholders SASSCAL, CSE and RCMRD for having taken up the role under the GMES & Africa Programme to promote policy implementation and encourage innovative solid wetland management practices in Africa.

In discussions with other speakers from CSE, RCMRD, stakeholders and participants, it is important to note that wetlands are crucial for human well-being by contributing to flood control within communities, supporting biodiversity conservation, removing pollutants and impurities from water to ensure clean and safe drinking water for human consumption.

Wetlands sustain the livelihoods of humans with fishing, agriculture, tourism, and recreation, as well as contribute to local economies by providing employment opportunities for communities living in and around wetlands. Wetlands hold cultural significance for many indigenous communities and most importantly wetlands play a crucial role in regulating climate change by storing and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which helps mitigate climate change reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing global temperatures.

SASSCAL, CSE and RCMRD under the GMES & Africa Programmme, all stand united in the commitment to provide information and awareness to all relevant institutions and authorities that safeguard the wetlands ecosystem. The inventories and monitoring of wetlands using EO tools are essential to understand the unique biodiversity dependent on wetlands.

Additionally, Earth Observation data will thus enable policymakers to assess the status of biodiversity and identify areas of conservation priority EO data provides insights into wetlands dynamics including, waterfall patterns, vegetation, and land cover as well as facilitating water resource management and flood risk reduction.  Furthermore, monitoring wetlands’ carbon stock and greenhouse gas submissions is important for climate regulations, to enable effective climate change mitigation strategies.

Earth Observation data and tools established by consortia under the GMES & Africa programme can assist in quantifying carbon storage in wetlands ecosystems to support climate change policy implementation.

Overall, the use of EO data in wetlands provides valuable information to vulnerable areas within wetlands, for policymakers to implement control measures in the sustainability and restoration of wetlands as well as support the assessment of wetlands resources and economic value, decision-making for resource management and investment planning.

Like other stakeholders, SASSCAL has developed an Earth Observation Geoportal to support a sustainable wetlands management. The Geoportal provides data and information from Four transboundary river basins in Southern Africa namely the Cuvelai, the Limpopo, Kavango and the Zambezi River basins.

The WeMAST geoportal utilizes free satellite-based earth observation data and existing free software to provide metadata adhering to international ISO standards on wetlands exposure (vegetation and land cover and wetlands inventory status), Sensitivity (water quality and Soil moisture index) and Resilience (Standard precipitation index and flood susceptibility) data presented in maps, infographics and mapographics for end users.

Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) measures rainfall received from the long term observed rainfall. It monitors meteorological drought, agricultural impact, and hydrological impact as well as inter-seasonal precipitation patterns overtime.

The World Wetlands Day 2024 webinar reaffirmed SASSCAL, CSE and RCMRD’s commitment to protecting and restoring these invaluable ecosystems with EO data and tools, through collaborations, combined expertise, and resources to promote awareness and implement initiatives aimed at safeguarding wetlands for human well-being and sustainable development in Africa.



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