Care for the wetlands next door, for they will shape our future

India is blessed with a vast expanse of inland waters in the form of rivers, canal, dams, natural and man made lakes, estuaries backwaters, brakish water impoundments and mangrove wetlands. Fresh water makes only 3 per cent of the total global water resources.

We use one per cent for agriculture, fisheries and domestic use. A host of anthropogenic degradation in the river habitat, primarily due to water abstraction, construction of dams, soil erosion in catchment areas and water pollution from industrial, agricultural pesticides and municipal wastes, have all contributed to degradation of the water quality.

Wetlands are an important feature of the earth's landscape. They are regarded as direct or indirect life supporting system for millions of living beings. A significant source of water, wetlands moderate the hydrological extreme events like drought and flood, and enhance the aesthetic value of landscape along with offering many recreational activities.

The Ramsar convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.

The important wetlands areas got the Ramsar site status and their protection was given an even greater emphasis. I remember in my university days, when Bhopal's big lake was in discussion of clearing of aquatic plants, wetland ecologists had issues about these aquatic weeds and they were trying to think of the waste disposal. About 40 thousand truckload of weed waste was estimated. If this clearance had not been done, the weeds would have engulfed the lake water. They had to decide what had to be done with the weed waste and where it would be dumped. The transportation expense was big. However, why did the lake's plants get the weed status? The biggest reason was that the quality of lake water got changed due to city sewerage. The water became more productive and the plants grew faster and better in the rich water, so the growth rate of plants increased and the size of lake started to decrease in proportion.

The quality of water changes and degrades, the fishes in the lake start to die, as there are many unnatural gases in water such as methane. Until we treat our sewerages system and then release the water in the lakes, the future would be dire. Wetland flora plays the role of the renal system of the earth, however, if the discharge level is too high, problems like eutrophication would be seen and the water would all dry eventually. Even if we are not bothered about the future of such wetlands, it may not affect but our future is all dependent on the future of these wetlands and this interlink has to be understood at earliest.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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