Focus on saving India’s wetlands

That India’s wetlands face a daily challenge of survival is well documented. Two reports in this newspaper recently underscored just how difficult it is to safeguard such critical ecosystems from the advances of urbanisation, land use changes, infrastructure development and government apathy. Earlier this week, the Union environment ministry directed Uttar Pradesh (UP) to stop further draining of the Haiderpur wetland and ensure the dewatering, done under pressure from local farmers, is carried out only when migratory birds are not nesting there. Despite being a Ramsar site of international importance, the wetland suffered reckless dewatering between January 10-12, forcing tens of thousands of migratory birds to flee the spot. Days later, news broke that a birder approached the Supreme Court (SC) and National Green Tribunal over the delay in notifying the Dhanauri wetlands in Greater Noida (UP) as a Ramsar site. The wetland, possibly the largest breeding and roosting site for Sarus Cranes in north India, is threatened by encroachments and constructions around its catchment area, its water source. The delay occurred despite the Union environment ministry nudging UP several times since 2019.

The importance of wetlands cannot be emphasised enough. They provide habitats for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals and are valuable for flood protection, water quality improvement, shoreline erosion control, recreation, and aesthetics. India has at least 220,000 big wetlands and 550,000 smaller ones. However, a study by Wetlands International showed two of every five wetlands have lost their natural existence in the last 30 years, while 40% have lost quality for the survival of aquatic animals. The latest reports show even Ramsar sites, of which India has 75, are not immune to the pressures of development. This is unfortunate and, in an era of extreme weather events, a handicap.

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