Wetlands are one of the reservoirs for water, and wetlands could not be there without water, thus they are interlinked. Wetlands ecosystems cover about 6% of the total global land area. They are considered to be one of the most threatened of all major natural ecosystems and are argued to deserve a high priority for conservation. Wetlands are crucial for human survival and economic well-being, for ecosystem functions and for earth’s life support system. Wetlands are sometimes described as “the kidneys of the landscapes” because of the functions they perform in hydrological and chemical cycles and as downstream receivers of wastes from both natural and human sources. Apart from these, now the wetlands are described as carbon dioxide sink and climate stabilizers.
Wetlands denote perennial water bodies that originate from underground sources of water or rains. This means swampy areas with flowing or stagnant fresh or salt water that are natural or man-made, or permanent or temporary. Wetlands also mean marshy lands, riverine floodplains, lakes, ponds, water storage areas and agricultural lands. Wetlands are important ecosystems, which are rich in biodiversity. Their values in terms of direct and indirect use, functional values and bequest values are now widely appreciated. Their importance at the global level was first appreciated at the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, held at Ramsar, a city in Iran in 1971. Since then several wetlands of international importance have been listed as Ramsar Sites. Nepal is a signatory of Ramsar Convention, 1987 and different sites habr been designated as Ramsar sites. Thus, National Wetland Policy, 2003 has been endorsed by the Government of Nepal (GoN) with objective of involving the local people in the management of wetlands and to conserve wetlands biodiversity with wise use of wetland resources. The wetlands can be used for various income generating purposes. Eco-tourism is one of the uses of wetlands which can generate direct and indirect benefits to local people. Similarly, fishing or aquaculture is another potential income generating activity in the wetlands. The policy has given thrust in this aspect of income generation for rural poor people in reducing poverty in the country. The policy states that the legal arrangements to make the wetland management activities effective should be formulated.
Despite the policy instruments, there is still absence of rules, regulations and guidelines regarding wetland conservation and management. In some cases, they are overlapping in some of the provisions of existing rules and regulations related to the wetlands. Focus has been given mainly for uses other than conservation of biodiversity and for sustainable use of the wetland for rural livelihood. So, harmonization of those provisions is necessary on the one hand, and promulgation of new rules and regulations on wetland conservation and management is a must on the other.
There are a few key issues which have to be addressed such as all streams and rivers are defined as wetlands in Nepal. There are thousands of streams and rivers in Nepal. So, here, a question arises: should we manage them for aquatic biodiversity conservation? Similarly, artificial large area of water bodies such as reservoir created for other purposes such as hydropower and irrigation be used for natural biodiversity conservation? These are some questions to be answered.
The primary goal as stated in the policy is to conserve and manage wetlands resources wisely and in a sustainable way with local people’s participation. Emphasis is given to conserve wetlands by involving the local people, promoting awareness, using wetland resources wisely, preventing and controlling pollution and invasive species. The policy directed the government – in consultation with concerned stakeholders – to formulate and implement integrated action plans that encourage multi-dimensional model and promote wetland conservation.
Legislation and regulatory instruments are important elements for conservation and sustainable use of the wetlands. The policy stated that the legal arrangements to make the wetland management activities effective should be formulated. The need to formulate acts, regulations and guidelines to ensure the jurisdiction and the capabilities of the bodies responsible for wetlands conservation and management is realized from all sides.
Similarly, the impacts of climate change are already noticeable and felt in the Himalayas regions as revealed by the rapid melting of glaciers, formation of new supraglacial lakes, expansion of existing lakes, and disappearing of some small lakes. The accelerating melting rate of snow and glacier will have an impact, for example, on water flows in rivers, health of the people and food and biomass productivity which depend on water derived from the Himalayas. Nevertheless, the efforts to reach a consensus at a global level to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to agree on a clear commitment to support poor and particularly vulnerable countries including mountain countries in their struggle to adapt to rapidly changing climate are still continuing. Being the most dynamic and complex mountain system, the Himalaya is very sensitive to climate change. There are several evidences indicating that the climate change is gradually altering the ecological and socioeconomic landscape in the Himalayan region, particularly with respect to water. The hydrological processes, water demands, vegetation all are influenced by the climatic processes.
Finally, time has driven us to save our wetlands and water for our livelihood. Different agencies involved in Water and Wetland need to coordinate and collaborate while planning and programming for better future.