On the occasion of World Wetlands Day, we must join hands for protecting and preserving these precious gifts of nature. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty for “the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands”. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran where it was signed on 2nd of February 1971. Since then, the 2nd of February each year is celebrated as World Wetlands Day. The number of parties to the convention is 171 (as of May 2021).
There are 47 Ramsar sites in India. Sundarbans is the largest Ramsar site in India. Chilika Lake (Odisha) and Keoladeo National park (Rajasthan) were recognised as the first Ramsar sites of India. Uttar Pradesh has the most number of Ramsar sites in India. It has 9 wetlands.
There are 3 Ramsar Sites in Union Territory of J&K. Wular Lake, the largest freshwater lake in India, is the biggest of them. There are 6 Protected Wetlands in Jammu & Kashmir. Wular, Dal and Nigeen lakes in the Kashmir region and Surinsar Mansar, Manasbal and Purmandal lakes in Jammu region are declared as protected wetlands. Another lake which is in line to be declared as protected wetland is Purmandal lake, also called Chotta Kashi, located in Samba district.
The Jammu and Kashmir UT, having a diverse geographic and climatic makeup, has many lakes, wetlands, bogs, swamps, etc, of considerably varying physicochemical and biological characteristics. There are a total number of 3,754 water bodies in the Union Territory and they are being regulated by different departments and agencies, including forest, wildlife, soil and water conservation, and local government bodies. Of the total of 565 lakes/wetlands listed in the wetlands and water body directory of J&K, 415 lie in Kashmir and 150 in Jammu.
The Wetland Rules 2010 envisage segregation of water bodies and wetlands as per the classification given below:
Classification of Lakes/ Water Bodies of J&K as per Wetland Rules 2010:
LAKES AND WATER BODIES J&K KASHMIR JAMMU
Total 565 415 150
Above 2500m ( M.S.L) 359 240 119
Below 2500m ( M.S.L) 206 175 31
Having Area More Than 5 Hectares 166 137 29
Having Area Less Than 5 Hectares 399 278 199
Having Area More Than 500 Hectares And Below 2500m (M.S.L) 4 4 Nil
Within Forestry Boundary 349 233 116
Outside Forestry Boundary 216 182 34
The Department of Wildlife manages the wetlands of Surinsar Mansar and Gharana and associated wetlands in Jammu region, and Hokersar, Mirgund, Hygam and Shallabugh wetlands in Kashmir. Hokersar (in Kashmir), and Surinsar Mansar Wetlands (in Jammu) have been declared as Rasmar Sites under the Ramsar Convention. For Wular lake, a separate authority has been constituted. The Wildlife Department manages wetlands through various activities like construction of bunds to regulate water level, de-silting and de-weeding, maintenance of water pools and water channels, anti-poaching/anti-grazing activities, awareness and publicity programmes, etc.
Wetlands are essential for our wellbeing, inclusive economic growth and climate mitigation & 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 systematic 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 for community welfare and offer a healthy ecosystem for exploring multiple ecosystem services and benefits in parallel to abundant biodiversity and ecological systems 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 critical source of livelihood and job opportunities for a large number of population in form of fishing, farming, tourism, etc. Moreover, most of the wetlands in the region fall under Central Asian Flyway Zone (CAF) and are visited by lakhs of migratory and endangered birds during their annual migration march. 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.
Wings of Hope
The J&K region has a large number of wetlands but their ecological and socio-economic values have not been fully explored. Wetlands in J&K are currently facing multi-dimensional threats due to human encroachments and government apathy. Public awareness is an important factor in saving wetlands of J&K. Even the famous wetlands of Hokersar, Surinsar-Mansar, and Wular face serious threat from anthropogenic activities like increasing human settlements and urbanisation. As wetlands have great importance in our lives, people should take a lead in their conservation, otherwise we are doomed.
The UN’s Agenda 2030 provides a broad roadmap for national and international policy action for governments, civil society, NGOs and other state/non state actors to achieve SDGs for our present and future generations. Our wetlands provide a wide range of natural capital flow in terms of ecosystem services for people and the community’s life and livelihood. Our wetlands could have been developed into important tourism as well as a research destination in J&K. Placing a value on nature’s ecosystem services shouldn’t be misconstrued as putting a price on nature. This situation 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 survive only against Covid19 or other pandemic risk by restoring, rejuvenating and restructuring our natural ecosystem to become healthier and resilient.
—The writer is a research student of Forestry at Agra University, & Co-Founder of Valley Helping Hands Foundation, J&K. [email protected]