Wetlands International – South Asia
April 2010: In the Maldives, a mangrove-restoration programme is encouraging locals to protect wetlands and estuaries. In the Himalaya, a conservation strategy for saving wetlands is being developed.
In Manipur, meanwhile, the Loktak Development Authority’s focus has been radically altered from industrial development to river basin management plans for the benefit of the ecosystem and the livelihood of the people. Post-tsunami, the Green Coast Project has been helping restore coastal ecosystems and facilitating community-based rehabilitation projects on India’s eastern coastline. All this has been possible due to the efforts of Wetlands International – South Asia (WI-SA), a non-government organisation which works with the governments of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It has also partnered with wetland management authorities like the Chilika Development Authority, Loktak Development Authority and others such as the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management and Punjab State Council for Science and Technology.
WI-SA is an important organ of Wetlands International (WI), formed in 1995, that works for conservation and the wise use of wetlands on a global scale. WI was carved out of the union of three organisations – The International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, The Asian Wetland Bureau and Wetlands of Americas, all conducting research on waterbird populations and focusing on wetland conservation.
Wetlands control floods, protect coastal zones and host a great diversity of species, apart from being of great cultural and economic importance to local communities. Wetland habitats are declining rapidly across South Asia. Encroachment of wetlands, conversion to agricultural land, draining and filling for commercial projects, contamination by free-flowing sewage and filth and the introduction of exotic species are all factors leading to the loss of these assets.
There has been very little focus on these vital biodiversity vaults. In fact, perhaps the most threatened birds in Asia are waterbirds found in such wetland habitats. Recognising their importance, the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) was initiated in 1987 to promote public participation in monitoring the populations and distribution of waterbirds and status of wetlands in Asia. AWC runs parallel to other international censuses of waterbirds in Africa, Europe, West Asia and Neotropics, under the umbrella of the International Waterbird Census (IWC). Information from the AWC contributes to the identification and monitoring of wetlands of national and international importance. It also assists decision-makers in designating wetlands to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran 1971), protecting threatened species and assessing the value of wetlands. The data is fed into an international programme to maintain an overview of the population size, status and trends of waterbirds.
WI-SA’s long-term vision is that ‘wetlands and water resources are conserved and managed for their full range of values and services, benefitting biodiversity and human well-being’. The organisation’s goal is to ensure that stakeholders and decision-makers are well informed about the status and trends of wetlands, their biodiversity and priorities for action. It hopes to ensure that the functions and values of wetlands are recognised and integrated into sustainable development, and the conservation is achieved through integrated water resource management and coastal zone management. By employing large-scale, strategic initiatives, it hopes to increase conservation of species and habitats.
WI-SA believes that governments and all sectors of society, whether global or local, need to be more responsible and concerned about our wetlands, for their contribution is immense. Says Dr. Ritesh Kumar, Senior Technical Officer, WI-SA, “If our wetlands are healthy, our people will be healthy, especially the most marginalised communities that are dependent on them. Wetlands serve as the adaptive strength against climate change. If we’re able to restore our wetlands and their hydrological functions, we can fight climate change.”
A competent and dedicated team of wetland experts and scientists, who use science as a tool to fight the mindless degradation of wetlands, WI-SA, based in New Delhi, provides technical guidance and information to the numerous liaison officers or partners spread all across the region. Each day at WI-SA begins with careful planning and analysis of the projects at hand. After drawing up the management plan, each officer works individually, either on the technical front or on networking. Dr. Kumar himself looks after hydrology, catchment and socio-economic (which includes an economic study of wetlands and the livelihoods of people dependent on them) aspects. “Once individual work is completed, all these various aspects are integrated into a formal plan for conservation, which is then later reviewed…
We have to develop an understanding of resources, while there’s a lot to learn on-field. We do an eco-valuation of wetlands, to find out how wetlands function and how they can be used for resource planning,” he adds. Efforts to sensitise local communities and galvanise them to work towards preserving wetlands is another aspect that is looked into seriously.WI-SA focuses on wetland management, keeping sustainable development in mind and balancing the well-being of wetland ecology and human development. They believe that educating people will pave the way for wetland conservation. “Wetland management is linked to people. It is essential to harmonise the interests of human beings and ecosystems… If aqua culture affects wetlands, means will have to be applied to reduce its impact and provide an alternative livelihood to the people…We are striking water allocation systems, which harmonise ecosystem needs with human demands.”
One of WI-SA’s significant projects has been the Hydrological Monitoring Action Plan in the Chilika Lake, Orissa that has helped formulate a sound strategy for water resource management while ensuring that the ecology of the region is not destroyed. The Management Action Plan initiated in Loktak and its associated wetlands integrating the Manipur River Basin, studied the causes of their deterioration and suggested strategies for catchment and biodiversity conservation, and water management of the lake, in consideration of local livelihoods. Projects such as the Economic Valuation of Harike Wetlands in Punjab employed valuation methods like market pricing, opportunity cost, surrogate pricing, contingent ranking and contingent valuation to chalk out its numerous economic benefits and functions. The important services provided by the wetland, for example, water purification, sediment retention, flood mitigation, ground water recharge, maintenance of biodiversity habitats and the availability of commercially important organisms like fish and reeds were emphasised to garner greater protection for the wetland.
The Central Asian Flyways project is another unique initiative. The project was initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries to devise an action plan for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the Central Asian Flyway – a route that extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south. Objectives of the project included capacity building in the region, establishment of a network of specialists and promotion of the exchange of information/expertise and support to surveys conducted in the region. The organisation has also been working since 2001 with the Convention on Migratory Species to push the case for the Central Asian Flyway Action Plan for Conservation of Migratory Waterbirds and their Habitats. The plan was finalised at the 2nd Central Asian Flyway (CAF) Meeting of Range States, in New Delhi, in 2005.
Apart from this, WI-SA has also assisted in the implementation of various environmental agreements like the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and Convention on Biodiversity and Convention on Migratory Species.
However, Dr. Kumar feels that we still have a long way to go before we can be assured of wetland protection. “Wetlands are still looked down upon, as something on the margins. The poorest of the poor depend on these wetlands, a huge regime of people depend on these resources, and all the time, we’re looking at the larger picture. If we go back to these people, we’ll find great insights. We’re failing to learn from our past mistakes…If we get back to the model of us looking back to the local communities and their relationship with their environment, it shall benefit us.”
For furtherinformation, contact:
Wetlands International – South Asia Society (Regd.)
A-25, Second Floor, Defence Colony,
New Delhi - 110 024, India.
Tel.: +91 11 24338906, 32927908
Fax: +91 11 24338906