Southern Sudan's Vast Wetlands Conserved Under UN Treaty

JUBA, Sudan, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - Africa's largest wetland is now covered under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty providing for national action and international cooperation for wetlands conservation. The Sudd region in southern Sudan was formally certified as a wetland of international importance Tuesday at an event co-sponsored by the United Nations.

The United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, is co-sponsor of a three day workshop in Juba, the regional capital of southern Sudan. At the workshop, Ramsar's senior advisor for Africa, Abou Bamba, presented government authorities with a site certificate for the newly designated Sudd Ramsar site.


The Sudd Wetland is one of the largest tropical wetlands in the world. (Photo courtesy Sudan's Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources)
The three day workshop follows last year's peace agreement ending 23 years of war between the Central Government and southern rebels. It brings together technical experts and officials from both sides to jointly address the range of environmental issues facing the country.

"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," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

UNEP has established a project office in Juba and has begun a program of capacity building for environmental governance.

With a total area in excess of 30,000 square kilometers (11,583 square miles), the Sudd is the largest wetland in Africa and provides economic and environmental benefits to the entire region. The swamps, flood plains and 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 depend upon the wetlands and the seasonal flooding of the adjacent rich pastureland for their survival.


Ramsar's senior advisor for Africa, Abou Bamba (Photo courtesy Ramsar)
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 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 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, Steiner said.

In ceremonies in Khartoum on June 5, 2006, World Environment Day, Sudan's Minister of Environment and Physical Development Dr. Ahmed Babikar Nehar announced the designation of the Sudd marshes as his country's second wetland of international importance, along with the Dinder National Park Ramsar site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The Sudd is one of the largest tropical wetlands in the world, located in the lower reaches of Bahr el Jebel, the name given to the White Nile as it flows northwards.


Migratory mammals depend on the Sudd wetland for their dry season grazing. (Photo courtesy Sudan's Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources)
Ecologically the Sudd wetland encompasses a number of different ecosystems, grading from open water and submerged vegetation, to floating fringe vegetation, seasonally inundated woodland, rain-fed and river-fed grasslands, and floodplain scrubland.

It is a wintering ground for birds of international and regional conservation importance, such as the great white pelican, the black crowned crane, the white stork, and the black tern. The wetlands is inhabited by the vulnerable Mongalla gazelle, the African elephant and the shoebill stork. Endemic fish, bird, mammal and plant species abound.

Hydrologically the Sudd wetland is a giant filter that controls and normalizes water quality and a giant sponge that stabilizes water flow.

"Designating new Ramsar Sites isn't at all an end for itself," said Bamba in a speech that was delivered on his behalf in Khartoum on World Environment Day. It was read by Denis Landenbergue of the global conservation organization WWF, which supported the Sudd Wetlands project through its Global Freshwater Programme.

"It must rather be considered as a concrete step forward, and a valuable platform to draw the attention of the national and of the international community," Bamba remarked. "And this includes, among others, potential donors that might be able and willing to support the sustainable management of those priority wetlands - for the benefit of both man and nature."

The Ramsar 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.