J&K Wetlands: Lifeline of birds, fish, plants, and humans
Every year February 2 is celebrated as World Wetlands Day to raise international awareness about the significant role of wetlands for people and for our planet. This day marks the date of adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971. Currently, India has 37 Ramsar designated wetlands of international importance. In Union Territory of J&K there are 3 Ramsar Sites, including the Wular Lake, the largest freshwater lake in India.
Wetlands are essential for our wellbeing, inclusive economic growth, and climate mitigation and adaptation. They are the most significant source of fresh water for our consumption, agriculture, and maintaining our groundwater table by naturally recharging and filtering it. They act as a natural water sink. They are the most significant terrestrial ecosystem for carbon sequestration and work as a natural carbon sink system. They act as an ‘Ecosystem System Based Disaster Risk Reduction’ structure, protecting shores and providing cities and settlements with a safe and climate-resilient prospect. They provide sustainable livelihoods to the community and offer a healthy ecosystem for exploring multiple ecosystem services and benefits that abundant biodiversities support. These low-cost EcoDRR structures provide not only community resilience against water-related risks but enable communities to provide multiple ecosystem services better. Wetlands serve as upstream retention basins protecting downstream cities from flood risk.
Jammu and Kashmir has many wetlands of national importance and international recognition. These water bodies are a critical source of livelihood and job opportunities for a large number of people, in form of fishing, farming, tourism, etc. Moreover, most of the wetlands in the region fall under Central Asian Flyway Zone (CAF), visited by lakhs of migratory and endangered birds as part of their seasonal migration. These wetlands areas also provide safe refuge to native vegetation and wild animals. Their protection is crucial to combat the dual impact of climate change, water scarcity and flooding.
Even though J&K has a large number of wetlands, they are facing multi-dimensional threats due to human encroachments and government apathy. Public awareness is an important factor in saving wetlands of J&K. The famous wetlands in Hokersar, Surisar-Mansar lakes and Wular lake face serious threat from anthropogenic activities like increasing human settlements and pollution. People should take the lead in conserving them, otherwise we are doomed.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 provide a roadmap for national and international policy action for governments, civil society, NGOs and other state/non state actors to protect the natural environment. Our wetlands can be developed into important tourism as well as research destinations. Placing a value on nature’s ecosystem services shouldn’t be misconstrued as putting a price on nature. This is the right time for the government to set up wetland governance to protect, conserve and restore wetlands for ensuring a climate-resilient and water surplus future. We can only survive against Covid-19 and other pandemics by restoring, rejuvenating and restructuring our natural ecosystem to become healthier and more resilient.
The writer is a research student of Forestry at Dr BR Ambedkar University, Agra. firstname.lastname@example.org