Urban Wetland and its Importance

Vijaylakshmi Suman

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February to raise global awareness about the importance of wetlands for the environment and the people. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetland in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.  The theme for World Wetlands Day 2021 was ‘Wetlands and Water’, and highlights the significance of wetlands as a source of fresh water. The 2021 campaign also highlights the contribution of wetlands to the freshwater of the planet. Despite the Ramsar’s constant interventions, along with other efforts at recognising the importance of wetlands every year, the survival of many of the world’s wetlands are still uncertain. According to experts, human-dominated landscapes have continued to threaten the majority of wetlands regardless of their protected status.

A waterbody at the Dheerpur Wetland Project Site. Courtesy: CUES

Urban wetlands specifically are subjected to severe damage. Amidst the rapid expansion of the city, there has been an increase in wetland loss and degradation. Research has also shown that the way urban communities perceive urban wetlands is very different from the way they perceive rural or agricultural wetlands. Wetland degradation is complicated in emerging cities, and subsequently social inequalities and poor planning impact such outcomes (Hettiarachchi et. al., 2015).

According to Zedler and Leach (1998), since the habitat structure and function of a wetland depends mainly on hydrology, urban wetlands are affected by their far-from-pristine watersheds. The upstream dams alter the magnitude and timing of flows, ultimately affecting wetlands. In addition to this, urban wetlands also receive contamination from roads, storm drains and occasional wastewater spills. Considering the degraded condition of wetlands, it is crucial for wetland managers to state the goals of management and to work towards improving their condition (Zedler & Leach, 2018). However, until 2008, urban wetlands were not a matter of concern for ecosystem loss in the Ramsar discourse, but due to their continuous damage and loss, the Ramsar framework is working on strategies and policies to overcome these issues (Hettiarachchi et. al., 2015).

Since the Ramsar convention is working at a global level, there has also been local initiative by the government and concerned authorities for reviving and restoring wetlands in the cities. In Delhi, the state wetlands authority is focusing on 278 wetlands for restoration and conservation. According to this news article, there is a lack of data on the numbers of wetlands and their area in the city. Out of the 1,000 waterbodies that used to exist in the city, 278 have been recognised by land-owning agencies for their preservation. In 2019, a 23-member State Wetland Authority was constituted for wetland restoration as an order of the National Green Tribunal. The order also states that the authority officials are incorporating locals to become ‘wetland Mitras’ in which local citizens would volunteer to provide their services for the protection and management of wetlands and help management bodies by reporting any detrimental activities which may harm or damage the wetland.

The planning and efforts put into restoring and conserving urban wetlands are complicated yet critical. In addition to the ecological concerns, one has to also deal with social, political, and economic issues in order to save and preserve an ecosystem in a human-dominated landscape. Each impact affecting the condition of a wetland needs to be thoroughly evaluated for better management of the wetland. However, initiatives like ‘World Wetlands Day’ keeps us reminded and cautious of our actions, and motivates us to be part of such events which are beneficial to both humans and the environment. For now it is encouraging that several agencies are putting in efforts to save urban wetlands.

References

  • Zedler, J. B., & Leach, M. K. (1998). Managing urban wetlands for multiple use: research, restoration, and recreation. Urban Ecosystems2(4), 189-204.
  • Hettiarachchi, M., Morrison, T. H., & McAlpine, C. (2015). Forty-three years of Ramsar and urban wetlands. Global Environmental Change, 32, 57-66.

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