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DR Congo Announces World's Largest Protected Wetland
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 24, 2008 (ENS) - The Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe area in the Democratic Republic of Congo has become the world's largest Wetland of International Importance, officially recognized by the Ramsar Convention, a treaty protecting designated wetlands.

A ceremony to announce the recognition of Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe as a Ramsar wetland is set for today at the Cercle de Kinshasa in the DRC capital. The announcement is to be made in the presence of high-level government politicians as well as representatives of Ramsar, the global conservation organization WWF and other partners.

Residents of the newly protected area carry fish traps into shallow Lake Tumba. (Photo courtesy WWF Lac Tumba)

More than twice the size of Belgium, the 65,696 square kilometer site is situated around the Lake Tumba region in the Central Western Basin of the DRC and contains the largest freshwater body in Africa.

Its rivers and lakes constitute a major sink for the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

Until now the world's largest Ramsar site was Queen Maud Gulf in Canada at 62,782 square kilometers, designated in 1982.

Support for the DRC government in its effort to win recognition for the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe site began in 2004 and was provided jointly by the Central African Regional Program for the Environment, a USAID initiative, as well as the Ramsar Convention, and WWF, which was responsible for the technical aspects of the project.

"WWF is delighted that Ramsar has recognized the importance of this extraordinary wetland and the efforts of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect it," said James Leape, director general of WWF International.

"This is a significant step forward for the welfare of communities who depend on this wetland for their livelihoods and for the wildlife that lives there," said Leape.

Cassava, sweet potatoes, sugarcane and bananas are all grown in the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe site while oil palm plantations, groundnuts and rice are the principal commercial products.

Fish from the area also helps to stimulate the economies of big cities such as Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Mbandaka.

Vegetation cover at the flood basin acts as a buffer zone against floods for towns all along the Congo River and provides fish with breeding sites, while different forest types help filter water and maintain its quality.

"The Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe area contributes to the regulation of flooding and regional climate and ensures that the quality of the water remains good enough for millions of people who depend upon it," said WWF Project Manager Bila-Isia Inogwabini.

Lake Tumba (Photo by Judith Rose)

"Waters of this zone need to be managed appropriately and the classification of the site will help with a coherent planning process and mobilize all stakeholders to abide by the rules," said Inogwabini.

The Lake Tumba landscape, encompassing some 80,000 square kilometers in total, has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity anywhere in the world.

It contains species of conservation concern such as forest elephants, forest buffalo and leopards. There are an estimated 150 species of fish, a wide variety of birds, and three types of crocodile as well as hippopotamus.

Near the center of the site is Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province with a population of some 750,000 people, and there are several smaller towns within the site populated by tribes of the Mongo people.

Threats to the area's natural resources include illegal logging, fishing and poaching. WWF says an observed decline in Lake Tumba water levels is most probably linked to climate change.

Recognition of the site by the Ramsar Convention and the proper management that is expected to result from the area's new status will offer protection from unsustainable activities in future and should ensure the longevity of the water supply.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. There are presently 158 governments that are Parties to the Convention, with 1,757 wetland sites, totaling 161 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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