Friday 21st October 2016                 Change text size:

World Wetlands Day: ‘sustain healthy wetlands’, say scientists

Photo: Kasia Dymara via Flickr

Areas of wetland should be managed so that biodiversity, wildlife and millions of people can thrive, according to a report released as part of World Wetlands Day on Sunday.

Wetlands, defined as natural or manmade areas of marsh, fen, peatland and shallow water, have diverse ecosystems and are crucial parts of the hydrological cycle. Meanwhile, in certain African, Asian and Latin American regions, rural communities depend on the water and food they provide.

Therefore, a new study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), called Wetlands and people, calls for ways to effectively manage areas of wetland so that future generations can continue to reap their benefits. One of the biggest threats to such places has been the growth in agriculture.

Wetlands and agriculture can and must coexist”, said Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at the IWMI, who contributed to the report.

We need policies on wetlands that support ecosystems, sustain rich biodiversity, and simultaneously improve the livelihoods of farming communities who depend on wetlands or whose activities directly affect them. We need to find a way to have the best of both worlds.”

IWMI estimates that some 6% of the world’s landmass is classed as wetland, either seasonally or permanently. It says as well as providing the basics, such as food and water, the areas offer medicines, fuel and economic benefits from tourism. Overall, the financial value of wetlands is said to be $70 billion a year worldwide.

As well as agricultural developments, many areas of wetland have been sacrificed for oil palm and biofuel production. Others have become polluted by fertilisers and other chemicals.

Outright protection of wetlands is incompatible with farming and undermines livelihoods. We’ve frequently seen these approaches fail in the past”,McCartney added.

But there are landscape approaches and agricultural practices that can support and sustain healthy wetlands, and vice versa. Working with local communities will help us find the best solutions.”

Further reading:

UNEP: area ‘size of Brazil’ under threat from unsustainable land use

UK must ‘trade off’ economic and environmental benefits of development

Urbanisation amplifies risk of natural disasters, says report

Study reveals decline of 16 birds species in the UK

52% of global population to live in ‘water-stressed areas’ by 2050

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