Can we save our wetlands?

We are losing our wetlands fast. Taking the case of Madhya Pradesh and its wetlands as an example, environment expert K.G. Vyas explains how the wetlands can be saved from further deterioration.
K.G.Vyas (Source: India Water Portal) K.G.Vyas (Source: India Water Portal)

Wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems and play a crucial role in everything from water conservation, flood regulation and groundwater recharge to micro-climate regulation, providing safe habitat to biota, and more.

As per the National Wetland Atlas 2011 report, the millennium ecosystem assessment estimates conservatively that wetlands cover seven percent of the earth’s surface and deliver 45 percent of the world’s natural productivity and ecosystem services. However, the very existence of these unique resources is under threat due to developmental activities and population pressure. 

As per the report, in Madhya Pradesh, 17666 wetlands have been mapped and 44952 small wetlands (< 2.25 hectare) have been identified. Total estimated wetland area in Madhya Pradesh is 8,18,166 hectare. The upper and lower lakes of Bhopal are included in the list of Ramsar sites and is jointly known as the Bhoj Wetland. The upper lake of Bhopal meets nearly 40 percent of the drinking water requirement of the city and its water quality is satisfactory. 

Krishna Gopal Vyas, a senior geologist and a former advisor of Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission in Madhya Pradesh, who is an expert on water and environmental issues, spoke to India Water Portal on the wetlands in Madhya Pradesh.

What is the current status of the wetlands in Madhya Pradesh?

The overall health of the wetlands in Madhya Pradesh is not satisfactory with factors like increasing pollution, spreading of ipomoea (a kind of flowering plant) and other invasive aquatic species, the decreasing habitat and depth, and more affecting them adversely, reducing their utility and natural functions. The overall health of the wetlands and the encroachment issue need urgent attention. The current efforts are limited to occasional removal of silt and ipomoea. Encroachment and other concerns are seldom addressed.

Have there been any legal and policy measures for the wetland restoration in the last few decades? Are these changes effective?  

The Government of India had framed Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010. Clause (g) of Article 51 of the constitution of India stipulates it as the citizen’s duty to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife. The National Environment Policy 2006 recognises ecological services provided by the wetlands. Several orders have been issued to address the concerns around wetlands, but the impact of these rules, policies and instructions is hardly seen on the ground. I feel that the current approach of the government to improve the overall health of the water bodies is not enough. A lot more needs to be done.

What are the challenges faced by the government in improving the status of wetlands in Madhya Pradesh? 

Apart from the routine problems like encroachment, pollution, decreasing depth of the wetlands, invasive species, etc, global warming will pose far-reaching challenges with increased evaporation, silt accumulation and flash floods. Efforts are required to redesign them and restore their original functions. Further, the excess water reaching the water body (the outcome of the flash flood) could be stored in the same sub-basin by constructing interconnected or independent water bodies (similar to compensatory forests). Works on soil erosion may be undertaken in the catchments to reduce silt generation (minimise soil erosion). It is recommended that natural methods for silt removal may be adopted to transport silt to its natural destination. Cleanliness could also be addressed by making arrangements for perennial inflow and outflow from the wetland. 

What are the gaps in the management of these wetlands?

The gaps in the wetlands management include: 

  • The top-down approach in management.
  • Weak or no community involvement in management and benefit sharing.
  • Gross negligence of vital concerns like water quantity, quality, silt removal, land use change, biodiversity damage, etc. by managers.
  • Gross negligence on revival with more emphasis on cosmetic repair and vegetation removal. Inadequate and poor technical input is exercised in their restoration with the sustainability aspect missing.   
  • State policy and area-specific management rules and guidelines are required.
  • The lack of an accountable nodal department. 

How can we reduce encroachment in the catchment area of the wetlands?

The catchment area of practically all wetlands suffers from the change in land use. These land use changes have deteriorated the original status of the terrain and are encroached upon. The periphery of the wetland is also subject to encroachment. These encroachments, without good governance and proper enforcement, cannot be reduced. This will continue unabated due to various pressing demands.  

What are the measures needed to be taken to revive wetlands in Madhya Pradesh?  

The catchment characteristic of each wetland differs and therefore, there is no shortcut, thumb rule or readymade solutions for each wetland. Temporary measures also don’t help and should be avoided. The first step should be to understand the hydrology in totality along with original dimensions, role and responsibility of the wetland. The second step is to find out factors causing damage and estimate the challenges. The third step is to suggest remedial measures and undertake necessary action to restore their role, responsibility and biodiversity. There is also a need for the optimal and efficient use of water so that efforts don’t go waste. Revived wetland requires regular monitoring and damage control mechanisms in place. 

What are your recommendations to improve the situation?

  • Enlarge storage capacity to accommodate flash floods and store excess water in the same sub-basin. 
  • Polluting activities should be banned and the safe distance rule between a polluting source and the wetland needs to be introduced. Follow Ramsar guidelines.
  • The water inflow and outflow should be maintained for keeping the wetlands pollution free. 

There is a need to strengthen regulatory mechanisms to protect our wetlands from deterioration. Political will, good governance, nodal or independent department to manage wetlands, vigilant media and community’s commitment can also bring about positive change. 

 

 

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