February 2nd is celebrated as world wetlands day every year around the globe. In it’s essence it marks the adoption of convention on wetlands at Iranian city of Ramsar on this particular date in 1971. According to Article 1 of the convention on wetlands of international importance, wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland 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 doesn’t exceed 06 metres.
These are, thus, the vital links where a peculiar nexus between land and water is formed in presence of hydrophytes, hydric soils, bacteria and animals in static or flowing water.
An estimated 6 percent of the land surface of the earth is wetlands which are distributed in all the climatic zones of earth except Antarctica. In India, these are found in different geographical regions ranging from cold arid zone of Ladakh to wet Imphal, from the warm and arid zone of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the tropical monsoon based regions of central India as well as wet-humid regions of southern Peninsula. Approximately 4.1 million hectares of India’s total area is under natural and man-made wetlands. Of the total area of Kashmir Valley, nearly 42,661 hectares of area is occupied by wetlands and the total number of these small and large waterbodies is 755.
The chosen theme to celebrate this day this year is “Wetlands and human wellbeing”. There is not an iota of doubt that wetlands are the corridors through which life evolved, prospered, came ashore and conquered terrestrial areas. In fact, these are the kidneys of biosphere and the last refuge to a wide and vast biodiversity. Human beings are invariably intertwined with these ecosystems in the evolution of their civilizations. More than three quarters of food required for mankind is still being derived from wetlands in the form of rice and fish. Besides, wetlands have immense use in flood mitigation, ground water recharge and discharge, water purification, global warming mitigation, irrigation, tourism and recreation as well as education and research.
Their importance is visible from the developed countries of Canada, USA, Norway, Finland, Russia and various other European nations like France, Switzerland and Germany where these waterbodies have been maintained in their pristine beauty and grandeur both in their dimensions and water quality.
However, a topsy-turvy health status of these wetlands exists in developing countries like ours. From last two to three decades, our negligence in maintaining the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of these ecosystems under control has rendered these landscapes into muddy cesspools and breeding grounds of various diseases. With the depositions of millions of tons of sediments annually our wetlands are becoming shallower, their temperatures, BOD and pH are raising, they face illegal encroachments and are put to different uses of cultivation and waste discharges.
In Jammu and Kashmir, we have seen how Dal lake has become a cesspool of municipal wastage and pollution both from locals as well as outsiders. Likewise Wular lake, Manasbal lake, Haigam Rakh, Hokersar, Anchar and Shalbug are not an exception to this apathy. All these waterbodies are facing the burden of sedimentation, LULC changes, infrastructural bottlenecks, haphazard planning and other selfish motives from various sections of our society as well as development authorities like LAWDA and WUMDA from time to time.
In nutshell, we have left no stone unturned in throttling these ecosystems as well as the aquatic life residing therein. As a result of which we are suffering and
facing water shortages and dry spells. Not only this, our fish catch is also declining rapidly and we are even unable to get sustained income from these dying resources.
Need of the hour is to look into the substantial management of these wetlands and waterbodies and take concrete and immediate steps for their sustenance. All the concerned stakeholders must come forward and address the related aspects of ecosystem conservation, sustainable resource development, livelihood improvement, institutional development as well as community awareness and participation of common masses for the management of these assets of human welfare. That will justify the theme “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing” in its true spirit. Let’s wake up before it is too late and act sensibly.
Dr Rafi Ramzan Dar, a freelancer