Wetland Management In Nepal
Wetlands are water-soaked areas lying somewhere between aquatic and terrestrial systems. But they are dependent on both of these systems for existence. Wetlands support a great variety of biota (plants and animals) that are adapted to life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands support mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates. From a phytological point of view, wetlands support many plants. It is of relevance to note that it is the wetlands that facilitate the cultivation of rice, a staple diet for upwards of half the population in the world.
Wetlands include marshes, bogs, swamps, peat lands, rivers, lakes, ponds, wet meadows, tidal flats and so on. It is not necessary that wetlands remain ‘wet’ all the year round. In fact, the nature of wetlands may be seasonal, indicating that they remain wet only for some period and dry in other periods.
There are over 5,300 wetlands, both permanent and seasonal, all over the world. They are found everywhere and on every continent except Antarctica. They occupy a whopping 0.731 hectares of land. In Nepal, wetlands cover about five per cent of the land. They range from the Himalayan region to the Terai. The importance of wetlands can hardly be exaggerated. They are important not only from an ecological standpoint, but also from economic, cultural, communal and recreational standpoints.
Wetlands are a habitat for a wide variety of animals, birds and plants. They also offer a means of living to the communities living in their vicinity. In Nepal, Tharu, Mallah, Musahar, Satar, Majhi, Danuwar and other tribes depend on wetlands for their bread and butter. Over one billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihood all over the world. Fishing, farming, ecotourism and provision for drinking water are some of the activities which are supported and facilitated by wetlands.
Wetlands offer a variety of benefits to mankind. They filter/purify, collect and store water; collect and hold floodwaters; break wind and tidal forces; provide recreation for people; keep rivers at normal level; minimise inundation and soil erosion; help in groundwater recharge and nutrient retention and offer other benefits. They also help in maintaining the food chain. Wetlands also act as a de-pollutant. They take care of fertilisers and pesticides from agricultural sources and mercury from industrial sources.
However, wetlands are under constant threat. Over half of the wetlands have disappeared since 1900 A.D. The causes are both natural and anthropogenic. Climate change and natural disasters are responsible for degrading or destroying wetlands. On the other hand, anthropogenic activities like clearing wetlands for agriculture and human settlement, encroachment on lakes, ponds, rivers and other water bodies, rapid urbanisation and population growth and rising pollution destroy wetlands.
Realising the importance of wetlands, a convention on wetlands was held in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. The major outcome of the convention was the signing of the Ramsar Treaty. The treaty is an intergovernmental treaty aimed at sensitising the members states about the importance of conserving and maintaining the ecological features of wetlands. Nepal ratified the treaty in 1988.
The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is the first wetland of Nepal to be declared a Ramsar site. It was put on the list of Ramsar sites in 1987. Now, there are several other wetlands anointed as Ramsar sites in Nepal. They include Jagdishpur Reservoir Area, Ghodaghodi Lake, Beeshazari Lake and associated lakes, Rara Lake, Phoksundo Lake, Gosaikunda Lake and associated lakes, Gokyo Lake and associated lakes and Mai Pokhari. Last year, a cluster of lakes situated at Pokhara, including Phewa, Rupa and Begnas lakes, was declared a Ramsar site.
There is the National Wetland Policy-2059 in place in Nepal. The main objective of the policy is to conserve, manage and use wetlands judiciously and support local communities living around wetlands by improving their living conditions. It accentuates the participation of local people in the conservation of wetlands and the judicious use of wetland resources so as to maintain biodiversity, including wetland diversity.
The policy aims at identifying wetlands scattered all over Nepal and prepare management plans for each of them for their perpetual conservation. It tries to identify and mobilise local people’s knowledge, skills and practices regarding the management of wetlands for their sustainable use. It seeks to conserve wetlands on the basis of needs by adopting sophisticated scientific knowledge and technology. It conceives of enlisting the participation of women in the conservation of wetlands and in the use of wetland resources. It aims at gradually implementing international treaties for the conservation of wetlands. It also aims at spreading awareness about the need for conserving wetlands among the people.
There is still lack of awareness about conserving wetlands. Over exploitation of wetland resources may result in degradation or disappearance of wetlands. This will not only roil the ecosystem, but also affect the livelihood of the people living around them. Therefore, it is imperative to instill into the minds of people the need for conserving wetlands. They should be convinced that they own the wetlands they are living around so that a sense of ownership will develop in them and they will identify the existence of the wetlands with their own life. At the same time, development planners and policymakers should see to it that development activities will not affect wetlands.
Wetlands are a gift of nature. They offer a variety of benefits in various ways: social, culture, economic and ecological. So the government, general people and other stakeholders should act synergistically to conserve wetlands for the benefit of all.