LIBERIA: Wetlands – One of Liberia’s Critical Ecosystems Under Threat

By Alloycious David

Wetlands, one of the country’s most productive ecosystems face serious threats from our growing population. Unauthorized construction and damming of wetlands for construction purposes are posing threat to variety of species including plants, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, monkeys, frogs and toads, etc., which are inhabitants of our wetlands.

In an effort to raise awareness on the importance of wetlands, the Liberian Government through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will on Wednesday, 2 February 2022, join countries across the world to celebrate ‘World Wetlands Day’ in Kpatawee, Bong County.

February 2 is observed yearly as World Wetlands Day to raise global awareness on the importance of wetlands. The Convention on Wetlands was adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian City of Ramsar.

This year’s celebration is expected to be held under the theme: “Wetland Action for People and Nature”.

Accordingly, the EPA and her partners including Society for the Conservation Nature in Liberia (SCNL) have organized an indoor program, which would be characterize by speeches and a national stakeholders’ dialogue on tourism policy and action plans. The dialogue would provide a platform for national stakeholders to discuss opportunities and needs for actualizing ecotourism development in Liberia.

The President of Liberia, H.E. Dr. George Manneh Weah is expected to grace the occasion and make policy statement on wetlands protection and management.

His Excellency Urban Sjostrom, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden near Monrovia is expected to serve as Keynote Speaker at the occasion, which is expected to attract residents and students from several high schools in Bong County.

Kpatawee Wetlands is one of Liberia’s five wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The celebration of the 2022 World Wetlands Day at Kpatawee Watershed will not only attract government and international attention to the Ramsar site, but it will project a picture of why Kpatawee and other wetlands across the country must be protected and used sustainably.

Significant of Wetlands

At last year’s gathering of the Conference of the Parties (COP27), which attracted climate change experts and policy makers in Glasgow, United Kingdom, President George M. Weah designated the country’s forest and wetlands as the ‘third lung’ of the world and stressed the need for the provision of apt funding for countries like Liberia. The veracity of President Weah’s statement is the fact that wetlands serve as a major natural infrastructure for carbon sequestration and breeding grounds for fish and natural filtration for groundwater. Wetlands help prevent flooding and coastal erosion because they serve as giant sponges that absorb water. Research establishes that wetlands can develop roots systems that hold the soil in place and filter pollutants, naturally improving water quality.

Wetlands Under Threat

But, wetlands are disappearing steadily despite their importance. Residents and proponents are damming and backfilling wetlands with foreign materials in blatant disregard to the Environmental Protection and Management Law (EPML) and other international protocols on wetlands protection. The importance of wetlands is being ignored to the extent where people are randomly erecting structures in wetlands without EPA’s approval. New communities are being developed within the Mesurado Wetlands, while the Marshall Wetlands has come under severe pressure from residents who destroy parts of the mangrove forests to build homes and other structures. Aquatic species and their ecosystem are also being destroyed by the uncontrollable obliteration of wetlands across the country. The situation poses a serious threat to our fish population considering that wetlands serve as breeding ground for fish.

EPA Reclaimed Degraded Wetlands

Cognizant of the roles wetlands play; authorities of the EPA have taken action to arrest the situation by demolishing illegal structures built in wetlands along the SKD Boulevard and in Marshall.  The decision was taken following series of engagements including a halt order and a lawsuit against illegal residents, businesses and individuals building in wetlands. The EPA also erected several awareness billboards to deter violators. But, the protection of our wetlands require collective efforts both from residents and government.

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