Wetlands occur around the globe. They are highly interconnected, linking mountains to oceans and spanning national borders. They are some of the most valuable ecosystems on earth, providing a wide range of ecosystem services that sustain human life and wellbeing.

There is growing recognition that wetland ecosystems also have a critical part to play in meeting the defining challenges of our time, such as the biodiversity and climate crises and achieving sustainable development.

Ultimately, these challenges are interlinked, with often mutual solutions. Without halting the loss of wetlands and rapidly scaling up restoration, we will not be able to meet global biodiversity, climate or sustainable development goals. A string of extreme weather events, fires, storms, droughts, floods and the continuous breaking of climate records has provided abundant evidence of the consequences of climate change.

Wetlands and human wellbeing was the theme for World Wetlands Day 2024, observed earlier this month. The World Wetland Day is observed each year to raise awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet. Importantly, the theme for 2024 underscores how all aspects of human wellbeing are tied to the health of the world’s wetlands.

The continued release of poisonous water from industrial and urban areas has ruined the once healthy wetlands scattered in various parts of the country, particularly in Sindh

Human wellbeing is irrevocably tied to the state of the world’s wetlands. We are dependent on these life-sustaining ecosystems. But they must be healthy if they are to continue to provide us with water and food, support biodiversity, provide livelihoods, protect against extreme weather events and mitigate against climate change.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar on February 2 1971 and came into force in 1975.

Since then, almost 90 per cent of United Nations member states from the world’s geographic regions have agreed to become “Contracting Parties”. The network of nearly 2,500 wetlands of international importance includes some of the world’s most critically important wetlands, managed to ensure these areas remain in good condition.

They provide a set of living laboratories to test and refine ideas of conservation and wise use, often with multiple ownership and governance models within a single site. Tools and capacity building catalysed by the convention support site management, as well as the development and implementation of policies for the wise use of wetlands.

Reporting to the convention provides data on the progress made, including towards broader societal goals such as the Sustainable Development Goal 6 Target 6, providing a model that may also be applied in relation to other indicator frameworks.

Climate change is directly impacting wetlands of international importance, both through a net loss of wetland area within sites as a result of drying, desertification and coastal erosion and due to multiple impacts on associated biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Management to minimise the impacts through adaptation is becoming essential. The need for adequate protection and wise use of wetlands is recognised as a central plank of any climate strategy, with restoration needed in places where degradation has already taken place.

Despite its arid climate, Pakistan supports more than 780,000ha of wetlands that cover 9.7pc of the total land area, with 225 nationally significant wetlands.

Pakistan was one of the earliest countries to accede to the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, with the convention coming into force in the country in November 1976. Since then, the country has placed 19 wetlands sites on the list of wetlands of international importance.

Out of 19 declared Ramsar wetlands in Pakistan, ten are situated in Sindh province, namely, Deh Akro-II, Nareri Lagoon, Jubho Lagoon, Rann of Kutch, Indus Delta, the Indus Dolphin Reserve, Drigh, Haleji, Keenjhar and Hub Dam, which is situated at the border of Sindh and Balochistan and is a source of drinking water for Karachi.

Unfortunately, due to mismanagement and misplaced priorities, the wetlands face multiple challenges in the country. Water shortages and changing water availability throughout Pakistan are among the major causes of wetland loss and degradation. Without adequate water to maintain the wetlands, they will disappear.

The continued release of poisonous water from industrial and urban areas has ruined the once healthy wetlands scattered in various parts of the country, particularly in Sindh. Loss of water quality from pollution from domestic and industrial wastes is significant around all the major cities in lakes such as Keenjhar, Manchar and along the coast. Agricultural run-off, salinisation and eutrophication of wetlands are key challenges.

The author is a development professional and author of the book “Earthly Matters”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 12th, 2024

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