Wetlands for humanity: We must preserve them for future

Wetlands are beneficial for life because they provide ecosystem services. Wetlands provide humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year globally on February 2. The Convention on Wetlands was adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Hence the convention is also called Ramsar Convention. The first World Wetlands Day was celebrated in 1997 and since then it is observed across the world every year on February 2 with an aim to generate awareness on wetlands and their importance. The theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day is “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future” as approved by the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Wetlands are an important part of the freshwater ecosystem. They are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. Since a rich array of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem, it has a huge significance on water resources, biodiversity, culture and livelihood of the people. Wetlands are beneficial for life because they provide ecosystem services. Wetlands include all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peat lands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans. Wetlands provide humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation.

Wetlands are also called Ramsar sites, and their number across the world today stands at 2,200, which cover over 2.1 million square kilometers, an area larger than Mexico. Presently there are over 160 countries that are Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention.

When Contracting Parties accede to the convention, they commit to working towards the wise use of all the wetlands and water resources in their territory through national plans, policies and legislation, management actions and public education.

Nepal became signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on December 17, 1987 by enlisting Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve (KTWR). The Nepali term for wetlands is “Simsar”, which means lands with perennial source of water. Swampy rice fields, water logged areas and ponds are also understood as wetlands in the country. There are 10 wetlands of international importance in Nepal in all geographic regions. The latest entry is the lake cluster of Pokhara Valley of Kaski district, which comprises Fewa, Rupa, Begnas, Khaste, Kamalpokhari, Guide, Neureli, Dipang and Maidital lakes.

The constitution also has laid stress on protection of environment and natural resources. Article 51 (g)of the constitution has provisioned “policies relating to protection, promotion and use of natural resources”, with an aim to protect, promote, and make environmental friendly, and sustainable use of natural resources available in the country by mitigating possible risks to environment from industrial and physical development, while raising awareness of general public about environment cleanliness. Similarly, Schedules 5 to 9 of constitution outline the powers of federal, provincial and local governments. The three tiers of government have the rights in one or the other way for the protection and wise use of wetlands. The government of Nepal first approved the National Wetland Policy in 2003. It was revised and updated in 2012. The policy envisages a detailed and complete inventory of Nepal’s all wetlands. Further, it has mentioned that wetlands can be categorised under three conditions — under risk, endangered and lost. In addition, the policy has also provisioned implementation of the watershed based plan for wetland conservation.

Wetland conservation is a cross cutting area and multi-disciplinary in nature, which requires an integrated and a coordinated approach. Therefore, the National Wetland Policy has envisioned a national wetland committee under the secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. Members are from the forestry sector as well as Agriculture, Energy, Irrigation, Federal Affairs and Local Development, Industry, Tourism and Civil Aviation ministries.

For the sustainable urban future, conservation of wetlands is a must. It is high time we became sensitive towards maintaining and protecting our wetlands for the future generations. The rapid urbanisation that we are seeing today can have a serious impact on our wetlands. According to a report “Inclusive Cities: Resilient Communities” recently published by the Ministry of Urban Development, compared to 17 per cent of the total population living in the municipalities in 2011, the urban population now has risen to around 40 per cent. This urban shift will continue in the years to come. Hence this is the right time to think, plan and implement programmes for wetland conservation.

The concerned stakeholders hence first should focus on making a complete inventory of our wetlands for their proper categorisation. Secondly, the authorities must take necessary actions for the protection of wetlands that are endangered and under risk. Thirdly, all the Ramsar sites of Nepal must be managed based on integrated watershed management plan by applying the River Basin Approach. The federal, province and local governments need to pay attention to the conservation of the wetlands for urban future as well as future generations.