The State of Urban Wetlands in India – Explained, pointwise

Introduction

Four more wetlands have been recognized as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, taking the number to 46. The inclusion will provide better protection and conservation of the wetlands, especially the urban wetlands. 

However, the estimates of Wetlands International South Asia shows that nearly 30% of the natural wetlands in India have been lost in the last three decades. This should raise an alarming bell for the nation, as wetlands provide multiple services and play a critical role in sustaining the ecological balance of the region.

Therefore, the country should take proactive steps towards their rejuvenation and augmenting their resilience.

About Wetlands
  • A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, and it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.
  • Nearly 4.6% of India’s land is designated as wetlands. They cover an area of 15.26 million hectares.

Wetlands: world's most dynamic ecosystems - Tehran Times

State of Urban Wetlands
  • According to estimates by Wetlands International South Asia, nearly 30% of the natural wetlands in India have been lost in the last three decades. 
  • Vadodara lost 30.5% of its wetlands between 2005 and 2018. Hyderabad lost 55% of its wetlands
  • Mumbai lost 71%, Ahmedabad 57%, Bengaluru 56%, Pune 37% and Delhi-National Capital Region lost 38% wetlands
Reasons behind loss of Urban wetlands

The loss is attributed to the following reasons:

  • Illegal construction, unsustainable urbanization, agricultural expansion and pollution.
  • Inefficient waste management, rising pollution and unchecked urban development.
  • Construction and eutrophication from pollution
  • Lack of knowledge: In addition to urbanization needs, lack of awareness and knowledge on wetlands and their ecosystem services can also be blamed for this widespread loss.
  • Damming and water abstraction: Similarly, wetlands are impacted profoundly by damming and water abstraction. Keoladeo Ghana Sanctuary, Loktak Lake, Chilika Lake, Vembanad Kole are among those severely impacted by dams that affect water and silt flows.
Importance of Wetlands
  1. Firstly, wetlands help in flood control by acting as natural sponges. They temporarily store and gradually release stormwater. Also, roots of wetland vegetation hold soils in place, thus stabilizing the banks of rivers and streams.
  2. Secondly, wetlands play an important role in maintaining the quality of water in deep-water ecosystems. Wetlands trap the sediments suspended in water- a process called sediment trapping. They also remove phosphorus and nitrogen and help prevent eutrophication of lakes and ponds. For this function, wetlands are often referred to as “Kidneys of the Earth”.
  3. Thirdly, wetlands host a large number of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals.
  4. Fourthly, wetlands help in carbon sequestration. They act as carbon sinks and wetland soil contains a high amount of carbon.
  5. Fifthly, wetlands help in natural groundwater recharge and discharge.  They store water that replenishes the groundwater. Further, they discharge groundwater into lakes, rivers, and streams during dry periods.
  6. Sixthly, wetlands help in regulating local climatic conditions, particularly temperature and climate.
  7. Seventhly, wetlands provide numerous economic benefits. These include-
    • Water supply; fisheries; timber and other building materials; 
    • Energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; medicinal plants; recreational and tourism opportunities.
Conservation measures
  1. Wetlands Conservation and Management Rules, 2017: It prohibits conversion for non-wetland uses, setting up or expansion of industries in wetland areas. 
    • Further, under this, each state and Union Territory will have to set up a wetland authority that will define strategies for wetlands conservation.
  2. National Wetland Inventory and Assessment: Indian Space Research Organization carried out it using remote sensing satellites from 2006 to 2011. It mapped around two lakh wetlands in India.
  3. The National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems: It is a single conservation programme for both wetlands and lakes. It seeks to promote better synergy and avoid overlap of administrative functions. 
    • It was formulated in 2015 by merging of the National Lake Conservation Plan and the National Wetlands Conservation Programme.
  4. Centre for Wetland Conservation and Management (CWCM): Its establishment was announced in February 2021. It aims to address specific research needs and knowledge gaps in the conservation and management of wetlands. 
  5. Ramsar Convention: It 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.
  6. Montreux Record: It is a register of wetland sites on the List of Ramsar wetlands of international importance. It shows such sites where there has been or likely to be adverse ecological changes due to anthropogenic activities. Indian sites in the Montreux Record are Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan), Loktak Lake (Manipur).
Issues/concerns
  • Poor Identification: Besides ISRO’s National Wetland Inventory and Assessment, little effort has been made by the states in identifying wetlands. 
  • Narrow Focus: Conservation efforts are mostly centred on the notified Ramsar sites and ignore several other urban wetlands that are equally important. 
  • Half-Hearted Implementation: The steps haven’t been duly implemented as regulatory bodies like the Central Wetland Regulatory Authority only have advisory powers.
  • Lack of Community Participation: Existing laws ignore the participation of local communities in governing and monitoring wetlands. This limits their success.
Suggestions 
  • First, Mega urban schemes like Smart Cities Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation need to add the aspects of sustainable management of wetlands.
  • Second, there is also a need for more scientific data, imagery, maps and other relevant tools to provide knowledge on the status of wetlands. Further focus needs to be placed on innovative and sustainable ideas.
    • For instance, The National Mission for Clean Ganga in January 2021 formulated a toolkit for the management of wetlands and water bodies in urban areas, as well as studying the concerns of rapid urbanization.
    • Similarly, the Ministry of Jal Shakti (water resources) has launched a massive scientific and community-based programme. It aims to manage and develop health cards of 10 wetlands in each of 50-plus Ganga districts.
  • Third, the ecosystem services of wetlands need to be highlighted in our development policies, urban planning and climate change mitigation.
    • For instance, the Delhi Master Plan 2041 is referred to as a ‘Green-Blue policy’. Under this, water bodies and land are interdependent, growing with the help of each other, while offering environmental and social benefits.
  • Fourth, there is a need to enhance the role of the community in wetland conservation. For instance, a public-spirited individual named Ramveer Tanwar resurrected around 20 ponds and lakes in and around Noida with community support.
    • They used a five-point wetland revival process. First, hyacinth and garbage are cleaned off the water. Then, the water body is divided depending on its size and water is drained from each section. The bottom is left to dry completely and if required, they excavate the bottom. 
    • A path is created around the area for plants and finally, water is flown back in it and the water body is rejuvenated. 

Conclusion

A climate-resilient future for India demands smart and innovative ideas along with increasing space for people’s participation in management and decision-making for their wetlands as envisaged by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Source: Down to Earth, ForumIAS Article 1, ForumIAS Article 2, Indian Express

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