The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) encourages every country to observe the principles of World’s Wetlands Day and this year the theme is, “Wetlands and biodiversity”. In a statement, the UNEP says this years Wetlands Day theme highlights wetland biodiversity, its status, why it matters and to promote action to reverse its loss.
According to a convention adopted by the UNEP in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea, wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. Fish ponds, rice paddies, de-pollution and stabilisation ponds and saltpans are human-made wetlands.
The UNEP says wetlands are vital for humans, for other ecosystems and for our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification. Wetland biodiversity matters for our health, our food supply, for tourism and for jobs. Wetlands also absorb carbon dioxide so help slow global heating and reduce pollution, hence have often been referred to as the “Kidneys of the Earth”.
Though they cover only around six per cent of the Earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. The worrying factor is that they are disappearing three times faster than forests due to human activities and global heating.
“Wetlands are fantastically valuable multi-functional habitats—they nurture a great diversity of life, provide water and other resources, protect us from flooding and act as giant filters easing pollution,” UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre Deputy-Director Corli Pretorius says,“The loss of wetlands due to development pressure has been enormous, but these ecosystems can be restored to generate benefits for people and nature.”
Wetlands form an important part of nature. But nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history—and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts now likely on people around the world, according to a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
“The UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration 2021–2030 will help drive the conservation and restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and wetlands will be very much part of the picture,” says Musonda Mumba, an UNEP expert and chair of the Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration.
Though wetlands are priceless treasures, at Anawilundawa in Puttalam at least one acre of wetland has been cleared by an unidentified group for shrimp farming and it has sparked outrage in the country, the Daily mirror reported yesterday.
The site is of national importance according to the Ramsar Convention. “The issuance of permits and lands for shrimp farming in that area has been suspended,” State Minister Sanath Nishantha told Parliament on Thursday. Area residents say they believe a politician is behind the destruction. “Regardless of who is involved, the people did not give us a two-thirds majority to destroy the environment,” Industries and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa said. The destruction had taken place amid moves by the forest conservation department to restore the mangroves in the area. The forest conservation department and other state entities denied granting permission to clear the land for shrimp farming.
Our correspondents Priyankara Jayasinghe and Diana Udayangani revealed in the Daily mirror yesterday that a portion of Puttalam’s Anawilundawa wetland had been bulldozed on Tuesday night by an unidentified group. The area known as Muthupanthiya a portion of land in Kasanwatte belonging to the Anawilundawa wetland was flattened by some persons and the villagers believe that this had been done to set up prawn farms. When questioned Puttalam’s Wildlife Assistant Director Eranda Gamage said the wanton destruction had been reported to the Chilaw District Courts. He said investigations were underway to arrest the suspects and seize the machinery used. He pointed out that Anawilundawa area had been declared as a Sanctuary and an environmentally protected area. In addition, according to the Ramsar Convention it was declared as a wetland of international importance.
The new Government has pledged to give top priority to environmental protection and the battle against climate change. We hope stern action would be taken against these suspects and others who destroy wetlands which are national treasures.