Wetlands, the earth’s most threatened ecosystem, are disappearing three times faster than forests. In just 50 years since 1970, the world has lost 35 per cent of its water-plant-animal environs.
By Baher Kamal / Inter Press Service
India today announced the addition of two new Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance). With these, India now has a network of 49 Ramsar sites covering an area of 10,93,636 hectares, the highest in SouthAsia.
The new wetlands are the Khijadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat and the Bakhira Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh.
With these, India has established the largest network of Ramsar Sites in South Asia.
The Bakhira wildlife sanctuary provides a safe wintering and staging ground for a large number of species of the central asian flyway while Khijadia wildlife sanctuary is a coastal wetland with rich avifaunal diversity providing a safe habitat to endangered and vulnerable species.
Wetlands, considered as a natural solution to the global threat of climate change, absorb carbon dioxide, help slow global heating and reduce pollution, hence they are often referred to as the ‘Kidneys of the Earth’.
Specifically, peatlands alone store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. However, when drained and destroyed, wetlands emit vast amounts of carbon.
Wetlands also provide a buffer against the impacts of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tsunamis, and build resilience to climate change.
And though they cover only around six per cent of the earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.
Coastal wetlands, scientists say, sequester and store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rain forests.
Rice, grown in wetland paddies, is the staple diet of 3.5 billion people.
But… what are wetlands?
Wetlands are ecosystems where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life, explains the UN.
A broad definition includes both freshwater and marine and coastal ecosystems such as all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fishponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and saltpans.
Although present in all world’s regions, about 30 per cent of the world’s wetlands are located in North America. Some of them developed after the previous glaciation created lakes. Asia and North America combined contain over 60% of the world’s wetland area.
Critical to people and nature
The World Day also explains that these lands are critical to people and nature, given the intrinsic value of these ecosystems, and their benefits and services, including their environmental, climate, ecological, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic contributions to sustainable development and human wellbeing.
Wetland biodiversity matters for our health, our food supply, for tourism and for jobs. Wetlands are vital for humans, for other ecosystems and for our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification.
A billion people depend on wetlands
They are vital habitats for wildlife, as well as important tools for mitigating the effects of climate change. They help to manage extreme weather events like floods and storms, and can store 10-20 times more carbon than temperate or boreal forests on land.
Add to all that, more than a billion people across the world depend on them for their livelihoods – that’s about one in eight people on earth.
Why are wetlands in danger?
Wetlands are among the ecosystems with the highest rates of decline, loss and degradation, explains the World Day.
Indicators of current negative trends in global biodiversity and ecosystem functions are projected to continue in response to direct and indirect drivers such as rapid human population growth, unsustainable production and consumption and associated technological development, as well as the adverse impacts of climate change.
Wetlands are the most threatened of all ecosystems. Not only are they disappearing three times faster than forests – they are the earth’s most threatened ecosystem. In just 50 years — since 1970 — 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost.
Human activities that lead to loss of wetlands include drainage and infilling for agriculture and construction, pollution, over-fishing and over-exploitation of resources, invasive species and climate change.
In the specific case of the Mediterranean, for example, the region has lost 50 per cent of its natural wetlands since 1970 – and we continue to destroy them, warns the Union for the Mediterranean
Wetland loss, threatened livelihoods and deepening poverty together makes a vicious circle that is the result of mistakenly seeing wetlands as wastelands rather than life-giving sources of jobs, incomes, and essential ecosystem services.
This piece has been sourced from Inter Press Service
Image: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS