By Shiksha Khanal
A wetland is an area of land that is either covered by water or saturated with water like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and water logged lands including marshes or swamps, saturated land.
Wetlands are the main source of groundwater refills. It provides habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Enhancing water quality, controlling erosion, maintaining stream flows, sequestering carbon, recreation and aesthetic are some major functions of the wetland.
World Wetlands Day is observed on February 2 to recognize and celebrate the importance of wetlands to the world, and the diversity of life that they support. February 2, also marks the date when the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.Since then, almost 90% of UN member states from all the world’s geographic regions have acceded to become ‘Contracting Parties”. The official theme for World Wetlands Day 2024 is “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing”. This theme emphasizes the critical role that wetlands play in supporting human well-being across various aspects of life. This day deliver a strong message to the world to understand wetland conservation significance and take concrete steps to protect them for the present and future generations.
The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty adopted by 172 countries which provide framework for national action and international cooperation for the protection and wise use of wetlands through the designation of protected areas, effective policies, and the exchange of knowledge. Each country joining the convention must designate at least one wetland to be included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, known as Ramsar sites.
However, wetlands are extremely ecologically sensitive and most easily affected by environmental changes. Even minor changes can adversely affect wetlands, and all the life that is dependent on them. Climate Change, disproportionate infrastructural development work, pollution, destruction of natural resources and some other unwise anthropogenic activities are the major threats to wetland.
Invasion of Alien Invasive Plant species (IAPs) is one of the major drivers for the wetland ecosystem degradation. Invasive alien species are plants, animals, pathogens and other organisms that are non-native to an ecosystem. They usually create competition, predation, or transmission of pathogens which results into the decline or elimination of the native species. Among the wetland ecosystems, the freshwater habitats including lakes and streams are more susceptible to species extinction. (LCPV). Abundant occurrence of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), fistulosa, Alternanthera philoxeroide, Myriophyllumaquaticum, Pistia stratiotes and some other species are ultimately creating the loss of aquatic biodiversity, the disruption of local ecosystems and ecosystem function.
The Nepali term for wetlands is “Simsar”, which means lands with perennial source of water. Swampy rice fields, water logged areas and ponds. They might be temporary or permanent, manmade or natural. Nepal signed Ramsar Convention in 1971 and ratified it in 1988. Nepal holds 10 wetlands of global significance, supports the life of ample number of terrestrial and aquatic species. These sites are considered as a food basket to the billions of downstream communities, wildlife and livestock even beyond Nepal. Khoshi Tappu Wildlife reserve, Phoksundo lake, lake cluster of Pokhara Valley, Jagadishpur Reservoir, Gosaikunda Wetland, Gokyo Wetland Series, Ghodaghodi Lake Area, Beeshazari and Associated Lakes, Mai Pokhari and Rara lake has been the declared as a Ramsar sites of Nepal. These Sites take a stake of contributing 0.025% to the global target of Ramsar. Wetlands cover 5% of land of Nepal’s total landmass and Nepal is regarded as the ‘Water Towers of Asia.’
Wetland management generally involves activities that can be conducted with in, and around wetlands for the protection, management and sustainable utilization. Nepal Biodiversity Strategy (2002) explicitly addresses the wetland ecosystem. Its implementation plan for 2006 has outlined integrated wetland management as priority projects at the water shed level to conserve wetland biodiversity and critical sites.
The Government of Nepal has formulated National Wetland Policy 2003 with the objective to conserve wetlands biodiversity with the wise use of wetlands resources through the active involvement of local people.
Later, The Government of Nepal has ratified the revised NWP (2012) with a strong vision of establishing healthy wetlands. This policy is now a pragmatic document to address the overlapping issues and gaps from the previous policy. The NWP (2012) aims to address issues such as over use of wetland resources and services, lack of clarity in the ownership of wetlands, lack of mechanism to coordinate between the stakeholders, and contemporary issues such as climate change. National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973prohibits blocking or diverting of any river, stream or other sources of water flowing into a national park or the introducing of any harmful or poisonous substance therein. Soil and Watershed Conservation Act 1982 outlines the essential parameters necessary for the proper management of catchments areas, including rivers and lakes.
IUCN and WWR has been working to raise awareness regarding the values of wetland ecosystems, the threats to wetlands, wetland dependent peoples and species, and to build capacity for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands in Nepal.
In conclusion, it is urgent need to reverse the accelerating loss of wetlands and promote their conservation and restoration by involving the local people, promoting awareness, sustainable use of resources, preventing and controlling pollution and invasive species. New and innovative approaches need to be applied with the sufficient financial investment in wetland management.