World Wetlands Day is observed across borders and territories on February 2 every year. This year's theme of the day - "Wetlands and Water" - turns the spotlight on wetlands being a great source of freshwater and suggests an integrated and sustainable action to revive the natural water bodies and stop depletion.
The day marks the adoption date of the "Ramsar Convention" on wetlands, the sole multifaceted environmental pact thus far that focuses on the conservation and sensible use of wetlands.
Since 1997, the global day has been sensitising the value and importance of wetlands and promoting their conservation and intelligent use.
What are wetlands?
Wetlands are land zones that are inundated with water either seasonal or overflown. Inland wetlands embrace marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. Coastal wetlands grip water marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons, and even coral reefs. Fishponds, rice paddies, and salt pan wetlands.
The fact is wetlands are crucial, valuable, and multifunctional habitats for our planet's biodiversity and play pivotal roles in preventing floods, improving waterways, providing food for humans, and even sequestering carbon. Wetlands trap heat and reduce pollution as they are called "kidneys of the Earth".
What are the benefits of wetlands?
Wetlands provide manifold collective social benefits. Wetlands deliver food and habitat for fish and other endangered species, water value perfection, flood storage, limiting erosion, economically beneficial natural items for human consumption, and opportunities for recreation, education, and exploration. Wetlands improve water quality and also act as a wildlife sanctuary.
Wetland in the context of Bangladesh
Almost 50 percent of our total land area is somehow enclosed within wetlands. Wetlands are an integral part of the environment, biodiversity, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, and suchlike. Bangladesh has committed to protecting the land and aquatic environment since the signing of the internationally accepted "Ramsar Convention 1971" and the "Rio Convention 1992".
The size of wetlands in Bangladesh is decreasing every day. Unplanned industrialisation, urbanisation, illegal occupancy, and pollution have drastically reduced most of the country's wetlands.
According to a survey by the Institute of Water Modelling, more than 10,000 hectares of wetlands, canals, and lowlands in Dhaka have been lost since 1985. If this trend of reservoir-filling continues, it is feared that the amount of water and land in Dhaka will fall below 10 percent of the total area by 2031.
It has been disclosed that the size of wetlands in Dhaka and its contiguous areas was 2,952 hectares and the land area was 13,528 hectares in 1978. At the same time, canals and rivers encompassed 2,900 hectares. Dhaka city's rainwater falls into the rivers through these canals.
By 2014, wetlands in and around Dhaka city decreased by 1,935 hectares, lowlands by 8,198 hectares, and rivers and canals by 1,002 hectares. In other words, water resources have decreased 34.45 percent in 35 years.
Within this period, the land area has decreased by 54.18 percent and rivers and canals by 65.45 percent. Although four ministries of the government play a role in the management of wetlands across the country, they lack coordination in conserving the water bodies.
Alongside the Bangladesh Water Act (2013), Environmental Protection Act (2010), Reservoir Conservation, Restoration and Fill Control Act (2003), there is Natural Reservoir Conservation Act (2000), and the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) to protect natural reservoirs, however, it is not being implemented properly.
In order to conserve, existing canals and reservoirs in all parts of the country must be protected from encroachments and those already filled illegally must be restored. The Bangladesh Institute of Planners feels that it is important to take an integrated master plan and effectively implement it through the active participation of civil society in the occupation and decontamination of canals and reservoirs.
What can we do?
Here are some things we should do to conserve wetlands
- Controlling water pollution
- Restoring wetlands
- No damming on rivers or over-extraction from aquifers
- Addressing pollution, increasing water potency, and using wetlands with wisdom
- Incorporating wetlands into development plans and resources management
- No waste of food
- Establishing coordination between ministries concerned
- Boosting investment in wetlands as nature-based solutions to water resources management
- Incorporating water resources management in sectoral policies regionally, nationally, and internationally
- Triggering action regionally, nationally, and internationally to avoid wasting the world's wetlands
- Exploring a ground space close to you and finding out about its value
- Renovating, preserving, and supporting sensible use of wetlands
- Using perishable products to scrub your house
- Using organic products
- Disclosing the boundaries of rivers, canals, haors, baors, and ponds through geographic information system (GIS) technology, formulating plans and implementing reservoir protection laws, forming a high-powered commission to conserve wetlands
What ECOFISH-II are doing
WorldFish Bangladesh with the support of USAID Bangladesh has been implementing ECOFISH II, a five-year project with the Directorate of Fisheries and others collaborates to support host-fishing communities in the USAID Zone of Resilience (ZOR) that includes Cox's Bazar - Teknaf areas, coastal fishing communities in the Meghna River Ecosystem (MRE), and the Nijhum Dwip marine protected areas (MPA) to improve the resilience of the ecosystem of these coastal areas.
It has taken inclusive actions to increase fishers' income, building resilience, safeguard biodiversity, and enhance ecosystem resilience in the areas. The project has been implementing various measures towards biodiversity conservation, pollution control, and livelihood support for marginalised coastal fishers.
It includes mainstreaming the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), strengthening co-management practices, continuing advocacy in favor of establishing MPA, managing the Nijhum Dwip MPA, and adjacent coastal ecosystems.
Asaduzzaman Rassel is a communication specialist at WorldFish Bangladesh.