Wetlands Ecosystems

The global decline in extent and quality of wetlands over the last century (Davidson, 2014) is now especially manifest in Africa. Main proximate drivers of these changes are agricultural development, large infrastructural projects and urban development. These pressures reflect underlying causes related to economic development, food insecurity, and population growth, and the policies and regulations that facilitate wetland conversions (Asselen et al., 2013).While greater utilization of wetlands for crop production that takes advantage of supplies of water and carbon may be intuitively attractive, impacts on e.g. sustainable food production, flood attenuation, water quality, and livelihoods provide a series of risks for both social and ecological resilience (Walker et al., 2004) of wetlands and the communities they support.

Wetland ecosystems provide a wide array of market and non-market benefits to society. The economic and social value of these ecosystems is often unrecognized by both citizens and policy-makers (Lin et al., 2007; Kimmel et al., 2010; Adekola and Mitchell, 2011), despite168 signatories to the Ramsar Convention (www.ramsar.org) and high level policy agreements on the need to protect water resources, including wetlands. The shared Water Vision for Africa 2025 (UN Water Africa, 2009) clearly identified the importance of wetlands for livelihoods, but weak institutional arrangements, uncertain legal frameworks for ownership, allocation and management of water resources, and inadequate public awareness and stakeholder involvement offer possibilities for continued degradation, despite legislation for protection in many of the riparian countries of the Nile Basin. While natural goods and services are recognised as important, their benefits are often hidden in decision making because their economic value is not explicit.. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment brought ecosystem goods and services to the fore of political thought, with a recognition that valuing ecosystem services provides a mechanism for sustainable use of what are often perceived as "free" goods, and the internalisation of so-called externalities involving hidden costs (MEA,2005; Russi et al., 2013).

Development of environmental economics has provided methods to quantify ecosystem services in monetary terms, as recently highlighted by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Water and Wetlands report (Russi et al., 2013). Interest on the TEEB approach has been growing in Africa over the last year, with a number of outreach activities aimed at policy makers, practitioners of wetland management, and researchers. However, research on appropriate selection of methods in particular circumstances, and the links between economic valuation and policy decisions are lacking in the Nile Basin and elsewhere in Africa. There is a major gap in understanding the different categories of ecosystems services, and especially how to incorporate regulating, habitat and cultural services into wetland and wider catchment management. Alongside these knowledge gaps are limits in individual and institutional capacity development. This project will connect economic assessment, wetland habitat assessment and capacity development. It will achieve this through research on specific wetlands to a) identify the relevant economic methods appropriate to the circumstances, b) provide an ecosystem services assessment of the wetland, and c) provide inclusive stakeholder analysis of wetland use. Through understanding these social-ecological components and including end-users, including policy makers, in the research, the project will apply trade-off analyses so as to identify enabling conditions for more sustainable wetland use that can enhance provisioning services while mitigating impact on the other services.
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The project is funded by and is part of
WLE Nile and East Africa
Regional programme.