“Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peat-land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.” - Ramsar
Wetlands account for just 3% of the world’s land surface, and are amongst the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems, essential regulators of the global climate, and also help reduce disaster risk, as they mitigate floods and protect coastlines. Apart from this, the wetlands are critical to human and planet life, because, they either directly or indirectly, provide almost all of the world’s freshwater, and more than one billion people depend on wetlands for a living. They are also among the most biodiverse ecosystems, providing habitat up to 40% of the world’s species to live and breed, store twice as much carbon as forests, playing a pivotal role in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity. Despite their essential role, wetlands remain undervalued by policy and decision-makers in national plans, which necessitated an intergovernmental treaty. The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
“Wise use of wetlands is the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development.”- Ramsar
It is a global treaty ratified by 170 countries and India became a party to the Convention on 01.02.1982, and the Wetlands Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the nodal point for implementation of the Convention in the Country. The triennial meeting will be held between the Contracting Parties to assess progress in implementing the Convention and wetlands conservation, share knowledge and experiences on technical issues and mitigation plan. The Ministry had also notified Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 and guidelines for its implementation under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as regulatory framework for conservation and management of wetlands in the Country.
Approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 and the loss rate is accelerating annually since 2000. Losses have been driven by megatrends such as climate change, population increase, urbanization, particularly of coastal zones and river deltas, and changing consumption patterns that have all fueled changes to land and water use and to agriculture. Whereas, the world’s remaining wetlands are under threat due to water drainage, pollution, unsustainable use, invasive species, disrupted flows from dams and sediment dumping from deforestation and soil erosion upstream. The convention states that,
“wetlands disappearing three times faster than forests” - UNFCCC
In addition, The IUCN’s Red List Index indicates that,
“the biodiversity crisis is just as alarming with more than 25% of all wetlands plants and animals are at risk of extinction.”
The Global Wetland Outlook is a wake-up call - not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands but also on the critical services they provide. Without them, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved, and
“we need urgent collective action to reverse trends on wetland loss and degradation, and secure both the future of wetlands and our own at the same time.”
The Global Wetland Outlook emphasizes the necessity of developing effective wetland management plans and integrating wetlands into the planning and implementation of national plans on sustainable development, climate change and other key global commitments. The report also stresses:
good governance and effective institutions at local, national and global levels as a crucial factor in preventing, ending, and reversing trends in wetland loss and degradation.
An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). Unsustainable use of water from the aquifer leads to challenges like: saltwater intrusion, salination and groundwater pollution, and over exploitation results in its subsidence (the gradual caving in or sinking).
Two types of aquifer exists, as defined by the U.S. Geological Survey:
- Unconfined aquifer is an aquifer whose upper water surface (water table) is at atmospheric pressure, and thus is able to rise and fall. Unconfined--aquifer are usually closer to the Earth's surface than confined aquifers.
- Confined aquifer is an aquifer below the land surface that is saturated with water. Layers of impermeable material are both above and below the aquifer, causing water to remain under pressure so that when the aquifer is penetrated by a well, the water will rise above the top of the aquifer.
“Lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and groundwater are part of a single hydrologic system where water is continually exchanged above and below ground - it’s all connected”
Groundwater fundamentally shapes the quality and function of these wetlands, and their capacity to support fish and all forms of wildlife. The continuous discharge of groundwater to wetlands during summer/ drought season helps maintain the seasonal water levels and types of plants needed by waterfowl to nest, feed, breed, and hide. Similarly, during monsoon the ground water is recharged through wetlands.
“Wetlands are considered as kidneys for toxic removal and lungs of the aquifer”
The consequences of wetlands destruction result in:
“Groundwater and wetlands are both important water resources, and both these resources need each other to stay healthy. Consequences of wetland destruction leads to decline in species, deformity, flooding, deterioration of water quality, water insecurity.”
Similarly the consequences of ground water depletion would result in:
“Groundwater depletion, is a long-term water-level declines caused by sustained groundwater pumping, ultimately results in dry wells. In addition, following the decline due to the sustained abstraction of ground water over a period of time, would result in sinkholes.”
It was predicted that by 2030 many countries run out of fresh water, in fact many are in deficit now. According to World Resources Institute, 54% of India already faces high to extremely high-water stress condition. In addition, the report, Composite Water Management Index, prepared by Niti Aayog, a policy think tank run by the Union government, confirmed that,
“critical groundwater resources have depleted at an alarming rate and over 600 million people in India have got exposed to it”.
Shrinking annual per capita water availability in this South Asian country, home to over 1.2 billion people, underlined the need for sustainable conservation of water.
There is a slow awakening to the value of wetlands and aquifer, across the globe. The legislative bodies need to integrate wetlands into policy programs, while simultaneously educating the world on the critical importance of this most rapidly disappearing ecosystem.
“Without the wetlands and aquifer, we all hang in the balance.”
We need urgent collective action to reverse trends on wetland loss and aquifer depletion, and secure both the future of water and our own at the same time. The water bodies so called wetlands, aquifer, catchment areas are need to be restored and conserved, to address the anticipated water crisis and for the sustenance of human, wildlife and agriculture.
Despite the established management plans, they are still threatened by many factors. It is imperative for local, regional and national actions and international cooperation to work together continually to strengthen global wetland s and aquifer conservation and restoration. It could be carried out in five aspects, including management and policy, monitoring, restoration, knowledge, and funding.
Against this backdrop, ‘Cooperation for Wetlands and Aquifer Restoration & Conservation’ was conceptualized in the series of the nation building and reversing the loss of biodiversity program, campaign on the ‘Mobilization & Participation Approach’.
Complements the following SDGs