COVER STORY

WETLANDS & URBAN SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS

Priyanka Tomar examines the need to maintain a balance between sustaining environment and pushing development

February is the month of World Wetlands Day! A day when we should all pause for at least a moment to think and remind ourselves of the vital role they play in supporting life and helping people’s livelihoods. World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February to raise global awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet. It also marks the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The Day has a different theme and message on a relevant subject set each year by the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. And this year’s theme for World Wetlands Day 2018 is, “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future.” This is to raise awareness about the value of wetlands in the lives of people, and in the economic successes of families, communities and nations. This theme is going to reflect in the edition of Wetlands Australia. This day is not only a great excuse to go tromp around in your nearest wetland, but it’s also a great chance to take a moment to think about the environment. Therefore, let’s take a look at the history of wetlands and why it is important to have a day in their honour. So, what exactly a wetland is? A wetland can be defined as land that contains marshes or swamps. They are the land areas that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently. Urban wetlands are found in and around cities or their suburbs. They include rivers and their flood plains, lakes, and swamps as well as coastal variants such as salt marshes, mangroves and coral reefs.

HISTORY OF WORLD WETLANDS DAY

 

World Wetlands Day brings awareness and remembrance of the Convention on Wetlands of 1971. The convention and the world wetlands day were established to educate on the importance of wetlands and what they mean to humanity and the planet. The first time this day was celebrated was in 1997. Since then government agencies, non-government organisations and community groups have celebrated World Wetlands Day by undertaking actions to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits and promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands. These activities include seminars, nature walks, and festivals, announcement of new Ramsar sites, newspaper articles, radio interviews and wetland rehabilitation. Each year a new theme is selected and that’s the focus of all the celebrations for that year. Some of the past themes have been “No wetlands, no water”, “Fish for tomorrow?” and “Healthy wetlands, healthy people”

IMPORTANCE AND VALUE OF WETLANDS

 

Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.There is data that proves the link between healthy wetlands and the decrease of violent weather. UN Water estimates that 90% of natural hazards are water based. This makes the wetlands so important. When violent weather comes in, the wetlands act as a buffer. This gives time for the bad weather to slow a little and give time for the people nearby to get to safety. If the wetlands can stall the weather slightly there can be less damage to property and loss of life. When there are healthy wetlands, the people nearby tend to be healthier. On the other hand, worldwide over a billion people earn income directly from wetlands, including from jobs in sectors that depend on wetlands such as fishing, tourism and rice farming. Other employment sectors such as water utilities, water transport, handicrafts and aquaculture; all derive financial benefits from healthy wetlands.

Income generated from healthy wetlands not only helps communities to escape poverty, it also ensures that by taking care of their wetlands, people help to build a sustainable future for themselves. One can definitely say; wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments. They are cradles of biological diversity, providing water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. Wetlands also perform valuable ecosystem services such as water purification and filtration, water storage and storm buffering. Safeguarding the World’s Wetlands – Let’s Be Bold, Brave and Ambitious: Over the past four decades, the multiple roles of wetlands and their value to humanity have been increasingly documented. That millions of people around the world rely on wetlands for livelihoods is familiar now to many. Not only are they an essential part of the global water cycle, wetlands provide water resources for crops, wildlife, stock and people, help to regulate the flow of water and nutrients through the landscape, store carbon, are an important habitat for many species – including migratory birds, and act as the breeding grounds for many of our fish stocks. Yet, despite the overwhelming benefits we get from these environments more than half of all wetlands have disappeared. It’s estimated that we’ve lost around 65% of the world’s wetlands since 1990.

Data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species shows that one in every three freshwater species is under threat. This loss and degradation of wetlands means an increase in flooding events, loss of wildlife habitat, a decline in water quality, and serious reductions in the vital and valuable benefits that humans receive from nature. “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.” – – Cree Indian prophecy. Therefore, for yet another anniversary of World Wetlands Day today; worried environmentalists all over the planet tend to agree with this Cree Indian philosophy, suggesting that there is definitely an urgent need to save our Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future.

ALL ABOUT THIS YEAR’S THEME

 

Half of humanity about 4 billion people live in urban areas today. By 2050 that proportion will reach 66% as people move to cities in search of jobs and a vibrant social life. Cities account for around 80% of global economic output. So, as cities expand and demand for land increases, the tendency is to encroach on wetlands, they are degraded, filled in and built upon. Yet when left intact or restored, urban wetlands make cities liveable, for example:

  • Reduce flooding- Wetlands act as giant sponges that absorb flood waters. Rivers, ponds, lakes and marshes soak up and store heavy rainfall. In coastal cities, salt marshes and mangroves work as a buffer against storm surges.
  • Replenish drinking water- Groundwater aquifers, rainwater and rivers are the source of almost all drinking water. Wetlands filter the water that seeps into aquifers, helping to replenish this important water source. Protecting rivers and limiting harmful runoff also helps safeguard the water supply.
  • Filter waste and improve water quality- The silt-rich soil and abundant plants in wetlands function as water filters, which absorb some harmful toxins, agricultural pesticides and industrial waste. Urban wetlands also help treat sewage from households.
  • Improve urban air quality- Wetlands radiate moist air thanks to their high water levels and lush plant life. This naturally cools the air in the local surroundings; a relief both in tropical cities and in extremely dry climates.
  • Promote human well-being- When preserved as green spaces in cities, wetlands offer residents a space for recreation and access to diversity of plant and animal life. Studies confirm that interacting with nature reduces stress and improves our health.
  • Enable people to earn a living- Many types of fish spawn and breed in wetlands, making them popular fishing grounds. Wetlands provide reeds and grasses for weaving, medicinal plants and fruits; all valuable goods for local residents. Wetlands also attract tourism, another important source of jobs.

As explained, Urban wetlands play a vital role in making cities safe, resilient and sustainable; the aims of SDG 11. Therefore, to raise awareness for these reasons; this year, “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future” theme is selected by the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Wetlands deserve to be loved! That is why show you care by participating in, or organising, an activity for World Wetlands Day 2018. This could be

  • a family picnic beside a lake or river with maybe kayaks to explore the waterway
  • a community walk, bike or run for wetlands
  • guided walk by an expert on wetland plants or birds ● workshop or talk, for example, on flax weaving

LASTLY, A LOOK AT HOW & WHERE, WORLD WETLANDS DAY IS CELEBRATED IN INDIA

 

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year in Ahmedabad, India by organizing several activities involving both children and adults. The event is celebrated by the participation of school students, conservationists, and members of panchayat, academicians, scientists and common masses. At the WWF-India Secretariat, New Delhi, it is celebrated to promote the common people understandings about the importance of link between wetlands and water as “without water there will be no wetlands – and without wetlands there will be no water!” WWF-India organizes a full day program for school students (quiz and painting competitions) in Himachal Pradesh in association with the State Council for Environment Science and Technology and Wildlife Wing, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department. Also, it is celebrated in the Jammu and Kashmir, at Mansar Wetland (a Ramsar site) with the involvement of the Department of Wildlife Protection and Department of Environment and Remote Sensing. The event is celebrated by organizing a symposium (related to event) in the presence of Minister of State for Forests, Environment and Ecology.