Importance Of Wetland For Life

Reeti Acharya &Ganesh Paudel


Wetland has direct and indirect benefits to human well-being. Different activities including water supply, pollution dilution and ecotourism has been sustained by healthy wetlands. Recognising the importance of wetlands to sustain life on earth, Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was adopted on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar city of Iran and every year in February 2 world wetlands day is celebrated all around the world marking the adoption date of wetland convention.
The standing committee of the Ramsar Convention on wetlands approved the theme of world wetland day for 2019 as the wetland and climate change recognising the severity of negative consequences of climate change on wetland ecosystem. On February 2 of this year, wetland day was celebrated with highlighting the impact of climate change on the wetland ecosystems.
In the context of climate change, wetlands are important from two perspectives. On the one hand wetlands are important pools of global carbon cycles and has enormous capacity to sequester and store carbon showing the importance of wetland conservation in mitigating the climate change. On the other hand, wetlands are the vast repository of biodiversity and livelihoods of millions of people worldwide is dependent on wetland.
The role of wetland is equally important for achieving the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 14 - life below water and SDG 15 - life on land are directly dependent on the extent and quality of wetland ecosystems. Besides that, wetland has also supportive role in achieving food security and water availability goals.
The common phenomena are that wetland around the globe is in intense pressure from degradation and Nepal is not an exception. Nepal’s wetland covers about 5 per cent area of total land area with enormous water storage capacity but now in intense pressure. Drainage and encroachment of wetland for agriculture, settlement and infrastructure development without due consideration of wetland biodiversity is one of the commonly seen and serious driver of wetland degradation. Unplanned and haphazard diversion and abstraction of water from wetland for irrigation and other industrial purpose has led to destruction of wetland by converting wetland into other land use.
Unsustainable exploitation of wetland resources along with the widespread mining of gravel from streams and river beds has role in the decrease in wetland bio-resources. With the increase in population especially in urban area, water pollution from households and industrial discharges and agricultural run-off has been diverted to wetland area causing serious impact on the wetland biodiversity. Invasion of alien species such as Jalkumbi and other species in the wetland ecosystems has been causing decrease and degradation on wetland area and biodiversity. Siltation in the lake and channeling and damming of river destroy the natural flow and freshness of water in lake and river area. Various researches have confirmed that climate change has huge negative impact on wetland biodiversity and its overall sustainability in coming days.
Nepal became a party to the Ramsar convention in 1987 by designating the Koshi Tappu as the first Ramsar site of the country. Being a signatory of the convention Nepal has been taking various policy and program initiatives to sustainably manage and conserve its wetlands. Till now 10 wetlands are included in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance covering the total area of 60,561 hectares. National Wetland Policy was first formulated in 2003 and later revised in 2012 incorporating the findings from scientific studies and experience of implementing first policy. Wetland policy focuses on restoration of wetland ecosystem services, resilience building, sustainable use of wetland resources and governance including the capacity building of stakeholders.
Wetland biodiversity has been regarded as the thematic area in National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2014-2020). Wetland conservation has been included in sectoral policies including the forest, agriculture, irrigation and biodiversity conservation policies of Nepal. In the past conservation and sustainable use of wetlands project was implemented by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation from 2008 to 2013 with the aim of wetland biodiversity conservation and ensuring environmental goods and services for livelihood of dependent people.
Latest good news is that Gandaki Province has been taking steps to restore the Phewa lake area from encroachment following the verdict of Supreme Court. Now the sedimentation removal activities are going on in Phewa Lake in coordination of Pokhara Metropolitan City and Gandaki Province.
Lack of supportive policy and legislative instruments for wetland conservation are posing challenge in Nepal. State transformation has increased huge demand and pressure on public land and other natural resources. As people’s expectation of development is high and the country needs to develop but the challenge is whether we can ensure the environmentally friendly development or not.
The integration of wetland conservation policy in sectoral and cross-sectoral policies and coo rdination between the stakeholders remains inadequate. Likewise, institutional capacity and long-term researches in wetland dynamics is also lacking in Nepal. This is a hindering gap to take concrete and evidence-based policy formulation for wetland conservation.
Proper management of wetlands requires the coordinated effort of different tiers of government and non-governmental organisations. Policy instruments needs to be revised and updated incorporating new scientific findings and changing socio-economic and institutional context of the country.
Likewise, policies should be backed by two ways-- resource allocation for implementing policy programs and legislative instruments and their enforcement. Watershed of the wetland area should be properly managed so that there would be minimum erosion to avoid sedimentation. Development activities should be conducted without hampering the extent and integrity of wetland ecosystem. Involvement of local people in wetland management from decision to benefit sharing is equally important to sustain the wetlands in Nepal.
(Acharya is Assistant Conservation Officer at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and Paudel is Assistant Forest Officer at the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation)


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