The cost of losing, and restoring lost wetlands, will be huge

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Quietly lamented in some of the side-events here is that compared to the glamorous cousin, the tropical rainforests, the ‘poor cousins’ – other forests and ecosystems – are not receiving enough attention.  The latter are presumed to have little, or at best, some boring biodiversity.

So I turned today to one such neglected region – the wetlands – at a side-event today. COP-11 is discussing  a draft report by  the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a global initiative on the economic value of conserving biodiversity,  n wetlands, which is expected to be finalised in early 2013 after inputs from COP-11.

Wetlands, such as Sundarbans mangrove in India (above), offer water and food security, but are getting degraded. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Wetlands come in different forms  — coral reefs, coastal wetlands, mangroves, freshwater lakes, tidal marshes, peatlands, coral reefs,  sea grassbeds, to name some.  Examples include the Pantanal wetlands of Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay; Okavanga delta in Botswana; the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India; the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe in the two Congos,  and Lake Tchad across Niger, Nigeria and Tchad.

Wetlands also provide a range of services that benefit people, particularly water-related services, including recharging groundwater, and fresh water supply. They offer are food security – mangroves, for example, serve as fish nurseries for their inhabitants.

They also moderate extreme weather events, regulate water flow;  help in water treatment and/or purification, and recycle nutrients;  stall erosion control and sediment transport; help withstand storms; and some like peatlands, mangroves and tidal marshes, store carbon.

Sadly, governments are “hugely not recognising, or under-estimating the value of wetlands,” says Nick Davidson, deputy secretary general at the Ramasar Convention on wetlands.

The world is losing its wetlands  fast due to agriculture production, urbanisation; and industrialisation. Since 1980, one-fifth (3.6 square kms) of the mangroves are lost.

The speed at which wetlands are being degraded  is also worrying.  East Asia is losing at the rate of 1.6% each year, while mangroves are going at the rate of 1% .

“The risks and costs of inaction are huge, and the cost of (wetland) restoration big,” he says.

Meanwhile, there is disappointment over draft resolution on wetlands at the ongoing COP-11. “It is weak and timorous,” said one delegate.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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