West Africa takes a leap forward for freshwater conservation



Posted on 18 February 2002  | 
Abuja, Nigeria - WWF, the conservation organization welcomed Saturday's announcement by the government of Guinea of the designation of new wetlands of international importance in West Africa, at the Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Niger Basin Authority (N.B.A).

Covering more than 4.5 million hectares, these wetlands become the second largest wetland protected area in Africa after Botswana's Okavango Delta. The wetlands in Guinea include the headwaters or source of the Niger River and represent the first contribution to the U.N. International Year of Mountains - 2002 since WWF's call last month on world governments to protect their mountain wetlands. More than 250 species of freshwater fish from 36 different families live in the Niger river; of these, 20 species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. About 25 species of wild mammals and 1000 species of birds depend on the Niger basin habitats.

�For centuries the Niger River basin has been the birthplace of great civilizations of fishermen, farmers, pastoralists.� said Souleymane Zeba, WWF�s regional representative for West Africa. �Indeed, this river is the cultural, economic and ecological backbone of West Africa�.

For the past two years, WWF, the Ramsar Convention Bureau and the Niger Basin Authority have been developing a remarkable Niger River Basin initiative for freshwater conservation in the West African sub-region. The Niger River Basin is a focal area for WWF's activities in West Africa which aim at strengthening the conservation and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems. Guinea's announcement is a major step towards the implementation of these common objectives. The Niger Basin Initiative involves WWF, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. As part of the Initiative, the government of Niger announced the designation of half a million hectares of wetlands for protection last June.

The protection of wetlands under the Ramsar Convention means that the governments are making sustainable use of natural wetland resources a priority and setting a precedent for ensuring safe and adequate water for a large population in Africa. Other large-scale freshwater conservation projects are under way with WWF support in Chad and Nigeria, whose new Ramsar Sites are expected to be formally designated in the next few months. It is also expected that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Côte d�Ivoire will add new wetlands to the Niger Basin network of Ramsar sites.

"Africa is making great strides for the protection of freshwater sources and WWF is pleased to be part of the solution, working with committed partners on a freshwater crisis that touches the whole world, and in particular, Africa," said Sarah Humphrey, WWF�s Freshwater Officer for Africa and Madagascar.

For further information:
Frédéric Bambara, Communications Officer, Tel:+225 22 44 87 86, fbambara@wwfwarpo.ci
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager, Living Waters. Tel: +41 22 364 9030, email: lhadeed@wwfint.org

Notes to Editors:
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 130 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1133 wetland sites, totalling 91.4 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

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