Each year, 2 February marks World Wetlands Day, to celebrate our planet’s wetlands but also to draw attention to the challenges that their degradation brings.
This year the theme of World Wetlands Day is ‘Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods’, to raise awareness about the value of wetlands in the lives of people, and in the economic successes of families, communities and nations. Worldwide over a billion people earn income directly from wetlands, including from jobs in sectors that depend on wetlands such as fishing, tourism and rice farming. Other employment sectors such as water utilities, water transport, handicrafts and aquaculture all derive financial benefits from healthy wetlands.
While the ecosystem services that wetlands provide, such as regulating water availability and quality, filtration and purification, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration, are well documented scientifically, income generation from wetlands is less recognised globally. In Africa for example, inland fisheries provide employment and income for millions of people. An estimate of employment and income for seven major river basins found that in West and Central Africa alone, fisheries provide a livelihood to more than 227,000 full-time fishers and yield an annual catch of about 570,000 tons with a value of $295 million (FAO). Also, recreational freshwater fishing for example has an overall worldwide value of US$116 billion a year. Rice grown in wetland paddies accounts for 20% of all calories consumed and is the staple diet of 3.5 billion people. In Sri Lanka, around 879,000 farmer families are engaged in paddy rice cultivation. They make up 20% of the country's population and 32% of employment.
In the tourism sector, wetlands attract visitors spending over US$ 925 billion each year on specific wetland-related tourism.The Mekong Delta in Asia, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, or the Pantanal in South America are world-famous wetland habitats for animal and plant species, benefitting local communities through livelihood security and income-generation from tourism. They are also among the most threatened, demanding the highest priority for conservation. When WWF released its Living Planet Report in September 2014, freshwater species showed the most dramatic decline, down by 76%. The main threats to freshwater species are also the main threats to wetlands: degradation, conversion and pollution. Data published in 2014 showed that as much as 87% of natural wetland area has been lost since 1700, and 64% since 1900.
Income generated from healthy wetlands not only helps communities to escape poverty, it also ensures that by taking care of their wetlands, people help to build a sustainable future for themselves. IUCN’s SUSTAIN initiative in Africa, is pioneering this approach by working with communities and businesses to integrate management of wetlands into plans for sustainable and inclusive growth in Mozambique and Tanzania (www.sustaininitiative.org). For example, in Tanzania, the African Wildlife Foundation, an IUCN Member, is working with partners in the SUSTAIN initiative to improve conservation of the Kilombero Valley Floodplain, a designated Ramsar Site, by helping local farmers and large-scale agribusiness to manage water sustainably. By protecting and restoring the health of wetlands, SUSTAIN aims to improve water security and reduce threats to biodiversity while providing solutions for climate resilient and sustainable livelihoods.
With the recent agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals and a new settlement on tackling climate change, the Ramsar Convention has a strong role to play in stopping and reversing a terrible history of wetland loss and destruction. Whilst focusing on this year’s theme of ‘Sustainable Livelihoods’, the Ramsar Secretariat is also targeting the next generation to get involved by launching a photo competition for young people between 15 and 24 to take pictures of their wetlands and enter them for a coveted prize of a free return flight to a wetland destination of choice. Get involved to share not only the beauty of the world’s wetlands, but also the message that wetland conservation is a global priority that needs everyone’s help.
For more information, please visit www.worldwetlandsday.org