Efforts to preserve one of Africa’s most important wetlands received a major boost today at an event co-sponsored by the United Nations when the Sudd region in southern Sudan was included in an intergovernmental treaty providing for national action and international cooperation for conservation.
The Government of Sudan received the Ramsar certificate at a workshop co-sponsored by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in the regional capital Juba. The Convention signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 provides for the “wise use” of wetlands and their resources. There are 153 Contracting Parties with 1,629 sites, totalling 145.6 million hectares, designated in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
“Certification of the Sudd Wetlands as a Ramsar site is an important symbolic achievement that now hopefully will be followed through with practical measures to assist in the conservation of this unique habitat,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said. UNEP has established a project office in Juba and has commenced a programme of capacity building for environmental governance.
With a total area in excess of 30,000 square kilometres, the Sudd is arguably the largest wetland in Africa and provides immense economic and environmental benefits to the entire region. The swamps, flood plains and rain-fed grasslands support a rich animal diversity including hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.
The area is also inhabited by the Nuer, Dinker and Shilluk people who ultimately depend upon the wetlands and the seasonal flooding of the adjacent rich pastureland for their survival.
The three-day workshop is particularly significant in that it follows last year’s peace agreement ending 23 years of war between the Central Government and southern rebels and brings together technical experts and officials from both sides to jointly address the range of environmental issues facing the country.
UNEP is supporting the workshop together with the two environmental administrations of Sudan, the European Commission and the Nile Basin Initiative as one part of its new focus on capacity building the environmental sector in developing countries.
One of the surprising side effects of the north-south conflict was the isolation and incidental protection of the natural resources of southern Sudan, such as the Sudd wetlands, and extensive hardwood timber forests.
Southern Sudan now has some of the best preserved wetland and plains habitat in all of Africa and the largest timber reserves in East Africa. The regional government of southern Sudan now has a unique opportunity to ensure that the development of these resources is both socially equitable and environmentally sustainable, UNEP said.