Wetlands Message

Dear Friends
Greetings from South Asian Forum for Environment [SAFE]

We are deeply concerned to learn that the developing global south is fast losing wetland habitats of global importance, which are local ecosystems for climate resilience owing to rapid urbanization, encroachment and pollution. While the world unites in HABITAT-III at Quito this October, prioritizing wetland conservation as one of the climate adaptive strategies for emission sequestration, it is imperative that we have a strong regulatory framework at the national level recognizing the Ramsar Treaty and committed to save wetlands for sustainable development. 
It has been frequently stated, but without provision of supporting evidence, that the world has lost 50% of its wetlands since 1900 AD. Review of 189 reports of change in wetland area finds that the reported long-term loss of natural wetlands averages between 54–57% but loss may have been as high as 87% since 1700 AD. There has been a much (3.7 times) faster rate of wetland loss during the 20th and early 21st centuries, with a loss of 64–71% of wetlands since 1900 AD. (http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/MF14173.htm) Losses have been larger and faster for inland than coastal natural wetlands. Although the rate of wetland loss in Europe has slowed, and in North America has remained low since the 1980s, the rate has remained high in Asia in the last decade, where large-scale and rapid conversion of coastal and inland natural wetlands is continuing. It is unclear whether the investment by national governments in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has influenced these rates of loss. There is a need to improve the knowledge of change in wetland areas worldwide, particularly for Asia, Africa, the Neotropics and Oceania, and as well to improve the consistency of data on change in wetland areas in published reports.
The scenario in India alone is still more griever, wherein the contour loss in most of the Ramsar wetlands is nearing an alarming 5% rate annually. Lack of a comprehensive National Policy on Wetlands have brought all important wetlands in India under the threat of urban encroachment, solid waste dumping, habitat loss and policy conflicts. Presently, development planning and policy decisions not only questions the veracity of existing conservation frameworks, so far undertaken, for protecting such subtle ecosystems rather the vegetative existence of the Ramsar Nodal Authority / national focal point imparts the notion that wetlands are of least natural value and to be ostracized from mainstream conservation activities derecognizing their locally significant global importance and as well the livelihood vulnerability of millions of marginal poor, who survives on the wetlands ecosystem services.
More than a decade SAFE is working in many of these precious wetlands with the commons who have suffered the most and therefore have empirical evidences of planned and deliberate destruction of the subtle ecology of wetlands. As a part to this end, SAFE has been successful in developing a pro-poor economic paradigm for wetland conservation by implementing the ‘Biorights of Commons’ that has been showcased in the 4th TEEB Report of UNEP (https://www.cbd.int/financial/privatesector/india-privatemicro.pdf).
In this crucial hour of need and as well in milieu of climate change, we are sincerely approaching to all concerned authorities, organizations, regulatory bodies and international focal points to take into task the following aspects for consideration.

  1. A strong, unambiguous and equivocal regulatory framework for wetland conservation at the country level needs to be made mandatory for the parties of the convention to be adopted as a national policy plan.
  2. Status and significance of wetland ecosystem needs to be globally equitable with forest, rivers and mountains, as since these assure better climate resilience through water resource enrichment and carbon sequestration potentials.
  3. Policy formulation for wetlands must be made inclusive through community level consultation, stakeholder partnership and participatory planning through engagement of CSOs, CBOs, Indigenous people’s group, academia and practitioners.
  4. Regional cooperation must be sought in conservation of transboundary wetlands like the Kosi-tappu Ramsar site between India and Nepal or Sundarbans Ramsar site between Bangladesh and India
  5. Ensure that all concerned authorities, agencies and regulatory bodies should maintain status-co favoring the conservation of wetlands, till the formulation and enactment of the said policy is complete.

We surely understand that making it easier to put the wetlands to Monteux records rather than conserving it and its ecosystem services for the benefits of the marginal commons would only indulge the vindictive political wish of killing wetlands for obvious reasons. What is needed is stakeholder participation in mass awareness, capacity building of non-stake partners and engagement of CSOs, CBOs and Indigenous People’s Organizations, as well campaign for a global consensus. 

We therefore appeal before your generous self to advocate this worldwide as it is imperative and crucial in the present context and persuade for immediate actions assuaging all procrastinations thereto. Write to us your opinion on this at communication@safeinch.org and also mark a copy to the following concerns to shashi.shekhar@nic.in , ramsar@ramsar.org

With honest gratitude and sincere regards

Dr Dipayan Dey, Chair SAFE