Today, I am delighted to extend my heartfelt congratulations to David Ngwenyama and the remarkable team at Shoebill Environmental Consultancy for their exceptional achievement in securing the 2023 Grant from the Convention on Wetlands and Danone. Their visionary proposal to revitalize the Venter Valley wetland in Avondale, Lusaka, is a testament to their unwavering dedication and passion for this crucial cause.

The EUR 10,000 award from the Convention on Wetland and Danone represents a powerful endorsement of the pressing need to rejuvenate our dwindling wetlands. It is profoundly heartening to witness individuals who are deeply committed to preserving our environment and safeguarding our home.

This initiative, operating under the umbrella of the Action for Wetlands Fund, was established in 2022 by the global food company Danone and is administered by the Convention on Wetlands. The fund's primary mission is to provide support to innovative ideas and approaches that offer viable solutions and expedite actions directed towards the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of wetlands.

Venter Valley wetland possesses immense value, serving as a sanctuary for waterfowl conservation, an efficient hub for stormwater management, and a centre for environmental education. Furthermore, it stands as a vital research centre and a source of recreational joy while playing a pivotal role as a habitat for diverse wildlife.

Unfortunately, in recent years, this urban wetland, nestled at the heart of Lusaka, Zambia's capital city, has endured accelerated degradation. This deterioration is attributed to the destruction of waterbird habitats, the removal of vital wetland vegetation, and the pervasive scourge of plastic pollution.

Mr. Ngwenyama's unswerving commitment to safeguarding these invaluable ecosystems is both inspirational and indispensable for the well-being of our planet. Wetlands occupy a pivotal role in the preservation of biodiversity, the assurance of water quality, and the stabilization of our climate. Your collective efforts represent a significant contribution to these critical initiatives.

This project arrives at a pivotal juncture for Zambia. While the country undergoes rapid urbanisation, marked by the construction of shopping malls and housing developments, it is imperative to acknowledge both the benefits and challenges that accompany this growth. The expansion of residential areas from former farmland is indeed a promising development. Still, it has outpaced the provision of essential services, notably water and sanitation.

In Lusaka, the absence of piped water and sewage systems in these new residential areas raises significant concerns regarding the safety of groundwater. Observers have aptly labelled this situation as "a national problem,"emphasising the urgent need for government intervention to avert impending crises. Groundwater, constituting nearly 60% of Lusaka's total water supply, has emerged as an increasingly accessible and cost-effective source for drinking, agriculture, and industry, surpassing surface water in utility.

The rapid urbanisation has resulted in a burgeoning population that lacks ready access to water supply services from utility companies. This, in turn, exerts substantial pressure on the aquifer due to the proliferation of boreholes and wells. Furthermore, aside from the risk of groundwater pollution, the improper management of septic tanks poses severe health hazards. The inadvertent mixing of septic tank or soakaway effluents with shallow wells can culminate in contaminated water, potentially leading to dire health consequences.

It is evident that the wetland restoration project transcends the realm of environmentalism; it is a vital response to the multifaceted challenges posed by urbanisation. Shoebill's dedicated efforts to rehabilitate Venter Valley wetland hold immense promise, not just for environmental restoration but also for creating a sustainable and harmonious future for the residents of Lusaka.