South Africa's wetlands are under threat from developers, and the country could soon face a water shortage as severe as Eskom's power cuts, the Rand Water Foundation said on Friday.
Friday was World Wetlands Day, and this year's focus was on the Klip River, where the Department of Water Affairs held a ceremony.
Projects are under way to rehabilitate the wetlands along the Klip River in Soweto, but more efforts must be made to involve the local community, said Environment and Tourism Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi.
The river once provided a reliable water supply to the growing towns of the Witwatersrand gold fields. Then the Vaal barrage was built after growing demand for water exceeded its capacity.
Now a handful of projects have been launched to rehabilitate it, including the Moroka Dam and wetland projects in Mapetla, Dube and Kliptown.
Wetlands include lakes, marshes, swamps and flood plains where aquatic and land ecosystems meet and interact. They provide special habitats for many species that cannot survive anywhere else.
For urban dwellers who draw water from taps, healthy wetlands alongside rivers significantly reduce the cost of purifying water.
"There is still hope when one looks at the wetland in Lenasia. It is still in good shape and is doing its job after so many years," said Terence McCarthy, a professor at the Witwatersrand University's geoscience department.
An intensive rehabilitation project is under way at the polluted wetland between Zones 2 and 6 in Diepkloof.
Irvin Nkomo, the civil engineer who heads the project, said the wetland was an important part of the surrounding community's lives.
"The residents around here need to be told of the importance of such projects and help in protecting them."