AEWA’s African Initiative – Giving Wings to Waterbird Conservation in Africa

Budapest, 29 September 2022 - The African continent is famous for its rich and diverse fauna and flora. An increasing number of species in this fauna is under threat due to a variety of factors, including human induced impacts relating to unsustainable use or the loss and degradation of habitats, as well as natural factors including the effects of climate change or the incidence of diseases. One group of animals that is particularly under threat are migratory waterbirds, which travel large distances, often across international boundaries, to attain suitable habitats for breeding, feeding and wintering and  are thereby dependent on a network of habitats and sites (particularly wetlands) in various countries across their entire migratory range. This makes them particularly prone to a number of threats throughout their migratory journey, thereby making their protection more difficult. International cooperation across their entire flyways is therefore an intrinsic need to ensure their sustainable use and conservation, as framed by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).

In total, 33 (13%) of the migratory waterbird species covered under AEWA are classified as globally threatened. A prominent example of the increasingly endangered waterbird species in Africa is the shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), whose habitat is confined to a restricted set of freshwater swamps in eastern and central tropical Africa. The shoebill is threatened by disturbance and destruction of bird nests during the breeding season, the  habitat conversion, degradation and disappearance due to increasing use for oil extraction or conversion into agricultural land, as well as by trade in live birds. In recent years, its population has dropped to only a few thousand birds. It is currently classified as Vulnerable under the Red List of the  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and classified under Column A of the AEWA status of migratory waterbird populations.

Many of the key African wetlands which these waterbird species depend on,  are also of great value to many local communities, providing them with many benefits, including use as means of transportation or providing livelihoods through agriculture, aquaculture, fishing and pastoralism. Some of the waterbird species themselves serve as an important source of protein to certain communities. Waterbirds also provide other ecosystem services such as pest control, pollination, and disease regulation in these habitats, while serving as bioindicators of changes in ecological conditions. The decline of waterbird populations is therefore not only tragic for biodiversity, but will in the long term also have grave effects for humans themselves. Furthermore, the successful conservation of waterbirds and their habitats in Africa is also crucial for achieving wider global agendas on biodiversity and sustainable development, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that Member States will finalize at the end of the year 2022.


Shoebill © Micha Schipper

Considering the crucial importance of the African region for millions of migratory waterbirds, the relatively high proportion of globally threatened AEWA populations hosted by the region the AEWA African Initiative (AEWA AI)– adopted by the 4th Meeting of the Parties to AEWA in 2008 – was established to tackle the limited availability of expertise, capacity and resources in the region for advancing migratory waterbird conservation. Since its inception in 2009, the initiative has made many contributions to the conservation of waterbirds and overall biodiversity conservation in Africa.

In the framework of the AEWA African Initiative, a dedicated Plan of Action for Africa (PoAA) was developed as a guide to the implementation of the Agreement’s Strategic Plan in Africa. The current AEWA PoAA adopted by AEWA MOP7, covers the period of 2019-2027 and defines some 268 concrete actions and processes to be conducted by various actors at the national and the agreement level in order to deliver the targets of the Strategic Plan.

 International Single and Multi-Species Action Plans (ISSAPs/IMSAPs) constitute one of the key tools established under AEWA to  guide coordinated conservation and management action for the effective conservation of targeted waterbird populations. Development and implementation of AEWA ISSAP/IMSAPs is prioritized under the AEWA PoAA. At the moment, there exists one IMSAP and 17 ISSAPs relevant for waterbird populations in Africa, including for the shoebill,  Madagascar Pond-heron and the White-Winged Flufftail. The latter is one of the most endangered birds in the world and is believed to currently have a population of only about 240 individuals. Thanks to these ISSAPs/IMSAPs, large strides have been made in saving threatened waterbird populations from decline and extinction. Many activities and projects supported in the framework of the AEWA African Initiative, as well as by many AEWA partners, contribute to advancing the implementation of some of these plans in Africa. However, much effort is still required to promote the required level of action at the national level and overall flyway level coordination for the effective implementation of these plans.


White-Winged flufftail © Sergey Dereliev,

Promising progress has been recorded under the implementation of the AEWA African Initiative and PoAA, including for the conservation of species and their habitats, improving awareness, knowledge and capacity on various aspects of migratory waterbird conservation, sustainable use and management and increasing membership to the Agreement in Africa through the recruitment of some 15 new Contracting Parties from Africa since the launch of the AEWA African Initiative in 2009, with Cameroon being the latest state to join the Agreement.

Progress on the implementation of the Plan is tracked via a dedicated online reporting module, through which African parties can provide feedback on the implementation of the defined processes and actions that they were expected to undertake during the respective reporting period. For the first reporting period, twenty out of 38 AEWA African Parties submitted PoAA National Reports. The outcome of the analysis of these reports shows some progress on the delivery the expected actions and processes, in particular relating to the conservation of habitat in the wider environment and improving knowledge, capacity, resources and awareness for waterbird conservation. It also reveals areas where more effort and resources need to be invested for the delivery of the PoAA. These in general relate to the delivery of Objectives 1 and 2 of the Strategic Plan/PoAA, while targeted effort needs to be applied across a range of specific actions including for facilitating national processes relating to the enforcement of relevant domestic legislation and building capacity to review compliance of domestic legislation with relevant AEWA provisions.

Challenges of course remain, and the AEWA Parties and partners need to keep up the momentum to effectively tackling the manifold challenges to migratory waterbird conservation and sustainable use in Africa. The success the various actions and efforts achieved so far under the AEWA African Initiative and associated PoAA have shown that progress can be made if all actors work together and mobilize sufficient capacity and resources. AEWA therefore continues to work hard to stimulate, guide, and implement conservation efforts and facilitate international cooperation across the African continent.

The AEWA Meeting of the Parties constitutes the principal decision-making body of the Agreement and on a triennial basis, meets to deliberate and decide on key issues and solution for migratory waterbird conservation under the Agreement. The 8th Meeting of the Parties to AEWA takes place from 26-30 September 2022 in Budapest, Hungary. Representatives of African parties to AEWA already met in preparation for the AEWA MOP8 at a virtual meeting held from 4-7th July 2022. It is hoped that decisions made in Budapest could help strengthen the flyway approach to the conservation, wise use and management of migratory waterbirds and their habitats not only in Africa but across the Agreement’s geographic range that spans 119 countries on three continents.

Last updated on 19 December 2022

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