Chad Designates Enormous Wetland Reserve

GLAND, Switzerland, May 23, 2006 (ENS) - The West African country of Chad has announced designation of a vast stretch of floodplains, a lake, rivers, and ponds on its southern border as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, improving the opportunities for conservation in this remote area.

Known worldwide for its role as a shelter for refugees from the conflict in Darfur, Sudan on its eastern border, Chad is protecting this wetland on its southern border with the Central Africa Republic, about 200 kilometers (150 miles) south of the conflict zone.

Known as the Plaines d'inondation des Bahr Aouk et Salamat in this French speaking country, or the Floodplains of the Aouk and Salamat Rivers, at 4,922,000 hectares (19,000 square miles) the designated area is now the world's third largest Ramsar site.

Chad

Smoke from fires hazes over the Bahr Aouk region of Chad in this satellite image, but still wetlands can be seen on the right side of the image. November 2004. (Photo courtesy Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
With this designation, Chad's Ramsar Administrative Authority, the Direction de Conservation de la Faune et des Aires Protegées, has effectively doubled Chad's surface area under the Ramsar umbrella.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty which provides a framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Established in 1971 in the Iranian town of Ramsar, it is the world’s oldest international conservation treaty, the only environmental treaty for a particular type of ecosystem, and the first global intergovernmental treaty to combine conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

As described by Ramsar's Lucia Scodanibbio, based on the Ramsar Information Sheet, the Floodplains of Bahr Aouk and Salamat is located at 10°45'N 020°33'E in a natural depression in the land.

The site plays an important role for the surrounding wildlife, providing breeding grounds for several migratory waterbirds and supporting hippos, leopards, elephants and a variety of antelope species.

It also is a spawning and nursery ground for several fish families, and plays a role in flood control, groundwater recharge, sediment trapping and chemical regulation of the waters, Scodanibbio writes.

Fishing is an important socio-economic activity, with annual catches amounting to 15,000 metric tons. The area is also a renowned grazing ground, and different crops are grown according to the habitat type.

Local trees are used for medicinal purposes, firewood and fruit.

On the border between the Chadian states of Guera and Salamat lies Zakouma National Park, surrounded by the game reserve of Bahr Salamat, or the Salamat River. To the southeast, the hunting reserve of Bahr Aouk extends to the Central Africa Republic border.

elephants

Zakouma National Park is located on an immense plain, across which the Bahr Salamat and its tributaries flow from north to south. The Chadian government and the European Union have restocked and refurbished the park since it was ravaged by civil war and poachers. It is now inhabited by elephants, giraffes and lions. (Photo courtesy CIRAD)
Scodanibbio writes that tourism in the Zakouma National Park and the hunting concessions can potentially be further exploited.

The main threats to the site arise from poaching, oil exploration, overgrazing, illegal fires and contamination by pesticides.

An environmental education project is taking place in the schools, while awareness raising and training in participatory management is being carried out with the local communities.

The new designation is part of Chad's contribution to the ChadWet regional initiative that was launched at the 9th Meeting of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention held in Kampala, Uganda last November.

As with Chad's four other Ramsar sites, WWF's Global Freshwater Programme assisted the government in supporting the preparation of the site designation data.

The new Ramsar site includes one of the pilot projects in the framework of the GEF Lake Chad Basin project.

In addition, the area is included in a $US52 million World Bank Community Based Integrated Ecosystem Management Project under the Projet d'appui au développement local (PROADEL) that began in 2005 and is scheduled to end in 2009.

While the government has not been able to provide strong protection to these areas, according to the GEF project analysis, their remoteness and difficulty of access suggest that important populations of African wildife, including threatened and endangered species, may remain.

The GEF analysis forecasts that this region is likely to attract immigrant populations from other areas in the future, leading to increased pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems in the long run.

Soil erosion in hilly areas, and water management, especially groundwater, are additional issues of concern.

wetland

Chadian fisherman in the flooded savannah near Lake Chad on the country's eastern border. Also part of a protected area, these wetlands are similar to the newly protected Aouk and Salamat River wetland. (Photo courtesy WWF)
Under the GEF project, capacity building activities will proceed in a two-tiered strategy. At one level, collaboration between key stakeholders, including a super- structure of concerned communities, will be built to pursue integrated ecosystem management priorities at larger spatial scales.

A systematic review of protected areas and other assessments in three priority zones will be undertaken to identify needs for developing new or strengthening existing protected area management plans.

On another level, support will be extended directly to local communities for capacity building and, in some cases, facilitation assistance to help co-manage protected areas identified in the protected areas review.

These activities will incorporate indigenous knowledge and participation of community leaders. Selected communities will be supported to conduct participatory needs assessments in accord with community based natural resources management principles, the GEF says.

In pastoral areas, capacity building will focus in particular on reducing overgrazing and addressing conflicts between pastoralists and farmers.

In addition to these activities, scientific and technical capacity will be built in biosphere reserve management, and targeted support will be given to Chadian stakeholders in savannah and drylands management under a future UNEP/GEF regional initiative on Dryland Biodiversity in West African Biosphere Reserves.