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From wetlands to wastelands

  • Published at 11:58 pm January 31st, 2019
These waters are integral
These waters are integral / NASHIRUL ISLAM

Wetlands are a national heritage, and we need appropriate policies to preserve them

Global rent-seekers are targeting how to make more profits from the water, river, swamps, and marshlands. Sea levels are rising and oceans are warming. Apart from that, climatic and environmental hazards are escalating continuously, making the world more concerned about natural and environmental health. 

Setting the scene  

Wetlands are imperative natural resources which store and absorb carbon, reduce floods, relieve droughts, reduce storm surges, and protect coastlines. Wetland territories have further importance as they are eco-systems of high bio-diversity. They are also natural regulators of climate and water cycles and help control floods. 

It generates hydrological resources that supply water to populations in their area of influence, both for consumption and for agricultural and livestock use, and are also areas of work activity or recreation for humans such as fishing and tourism. 

Wetlands are restoring mangroves in West Africa, and working as sequester of carbon in Nordic-Baltic region. Coastal wetlands such as salt marshes, mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs act like shock absorbers. 

The frequency of disasters worldwide has more than doubled in the last 35 years, and the majority of these disasters are water-related. Wetlands play a significant role in stabilizing green house gas emissions and blunting the impact of climate change. Peat lands, mangroves, and sea grass store vast amounts of carbon. Peat lands cover about 3% of our planet’s land and store approximately 30% of all land-based carbon -- twice the amount than all the world’s forests, making wetlands the most effective carbon sinks. 

Wetlands of Bangladesh support agriculture, fisheries, and natural vegetation, and maintain soil structure that is distinctive from that of surrounding uplands. But they are under constant threat due to increase in population, commercialization of agriculture, over-fishing, siltation, pollution, ill-planned infrastructure, lack of institutional coordination, and lack of awareness. 

The country’s wide range of wetlands include more than 700 rivers and streams, thousands of shallow freshwater lakes and marshes, floodplains, inshore coastal areas, and extensive estuarine systems as haors, baors, and beels, water storage reservoirs, fishing ponds, and flooded cultivated fields. Man-made wetlands include lakes, dighis and ponds. 

The economic benefits include agricultural activities like crop production, freshwater fish production, production of vegetables and others foods. It also helps supply irrigation water, stock farming, and provides grazing places for domestic livestock and as a place of primary activities such as fishing. 

Wetlands are also vital for subsistence-oriented economies and livelihoods, and supply raw materials for building, construction, and industrial use, and are a provision of places for industrial and pharmaceuticals plants, and as store-houses of plant genetic material. 

The social advantages of wetlands are transportation, tourism and recreation, provision of settlement places, helping in research and education, providing cultural heritage, spiritual and inspirational values, leisure and recreation.

Management strategies 

Wetland management needs to be incorporated into a system of integrated land and water use and, indeed, into the socio-economic system of Bangladesh. Appropriate policies/strategies related to wetlands need to be implemented. Land and water managers must pay attention to issues related to wetlands eco-systems. 

The National Water Policy (1999) is the main base for water management activities in Bangladesh. In this policy, the main goal is: To ensure progress towards fulfilling national goals of economic development, poverty alleviation, food security, public health and safety, a decent standard of living for the people, and protection of the natural environment.

Mechanisms for resolving conflicts among infrastructure, agriculture, fishing, and land and water management approaches need to be evolved in Bangladesh. Awareness of the importance of wetlands at all levels, from policy to project is a necessity. Since Bangladesh is a small part of a larger hydro-dynamic system that comprises several countries in the region, mutual understanding and cooperation among the co-riparian countries will be necessary to formulate any long-term and permanent solutions of wetlands security.

Global research on hydrology and climate explains that Bangladesh is a victim of climatic hazards and environmental degradation. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s economy continues to flourish, with aspirations of being a middle income country by 2021. 

In this context, wetland resources and how they are managed play a crucial role. Implementing a comprehensive scientific inquiry, hydrodynamic analysis, modeling of the physical effects on wetlands, wetlands mapping, monitoring and protecting through geographical information system, remote sensing, and further research should be included. 

Shishir Reza is an environmental analyst and associate member, Bangladesh Economic Association.