Saving wetlands is saving humanity: Minister (February 2 is World Wetlands Day)

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New Delhi, Feb 2 (IANS) Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday marked ‘World Wetlands Day’ here, saying saving wetlands — marshes, swamps, bogs and large or small lakes and ponds — will help save humanity.

Severely under counted and a regular victim of encroachment and rapid urbanisation, the wetlands, according to the key United Nations finding, are being lost more rapidly than any other kind of ecosystem.

“They serve as a source of drinking water, reduce flooding and the vegetation of wetlands filters domestic and industrial waste and improves water quality. Save them, save humanity,” the Minister said while appealing to people to develop a strong movement for “green good deeds” in the country.

World Wetlands Day is observed on February 2 each year to mark the day the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971.

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For 2018, the central and state governments of Assam collaborated to mark the occasion at Deepor Beel, a “Ramsar site” in Guwahati.

According to National Disaster Management Authority, over 12 per cent of land in India is prone to floods and river erosion. Wetlands in India account for 4.7 per cent of the total geographical area.

“I think this is our Green Social Responsibility towards the society and the nation and of course for this whole planet,” the Minister said here.

However, the wetlands remain undercounted, even as Union Environment Ministry in September 2017 notified new Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, to prohibit dumping of industrial waste, effluents and related environmentally harmful activities. The new norms also make states responsible for conservation.

On Friday, the Ministry said it is assisting states to conserve state recognised 140 wetlands.

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Ironically, according to the records of May 2016, the central government under its National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP), only identified 115 wetlands across 24 states and two union territories.

Experts say that wetlands are crucial to stop or minimise the effect of disaster like floods and cyclones.

A recent report specifically cited the 2015 Chennai floods in Tamil Nadu, and pointed how the natural sinks like wetlands, that act as a sponge against floods, had shrunk due to rapid urbanisation, leading to catastrophic results.

“Estimates put the remaining original wetlands of Chennai at just 10 per cent,” said the report by NGO SEEDS and Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based in the University of Louvain School of Public Health, Brussels.

According to Faiyaz A. Khudsar, scientist in-charge of Yamuna Biodiversity, there used to be over 400 wetlands in Delhi, there are now only a handful left.

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“They are priced land, not wasteland where garbage and sewer can be dumped,” Khudsar said in context of how wetlands are seen in the urban sphere.

Another report from Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage pointed out that while there is no clarity on the present number of wetlands in Delhi and NCR, over 21 lakes and several ponds had disappeared from the map of the national capital due to encroachment, mostly by real estate.

The central government has proposed Rs 66 crore for conservation of aquatic ecosystem under the Union Budget 2018-19 presented on Thursday. Under the last budget the funds proposed was Rs 60 crore, however of this only Rs 56 crore could be utilised.



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