Tuesday, February 2, marked World Wetlands Day, the day that commemorates the adoption of the Convention of Wetlands in 1971. This year's theme for World Wetlands Day—'Wetlands and Water'—highlights the importance of wetlands as a source of freshwater and calls on action for restoring them. It seeks to bring into focus the availability of water and its usage today and in the future, as only 2.5 percent of the world's available water is fresh water, and less than 1 percent is usable. The fact that our water use has increased six-fold in the past 100 years and we will require 55 percent more water by 2050 as the world population rises to nearly 10 billion tells us about the gravity of the impending global water crisis.
That is what makes World Wetlands Day an important occasion. As the most essential sources of water, wetland ecosystems are the key to the existence of humans, animals and biodiversity. Apart from having a special place in the aquatic ecosystem, wetlands are an antidote to industrialisation as they help in maintaining temperature and fighting climate change. However, wetlands across the world are in danger of extinction. Almost 90 percent of the world's wetlands have disappeared since the 1700s, and those that remain are disappearing three times faster than forests.
Since the depletion of global wetlands has mostly to do with human activity, there is no other way than for humans to change their ways to save the wetlands. As the world braces itself for future wars over water, the best time to spring into action to conserve the last of the wetlands is now. As per a recent census, Nepal has seen depletion in the number of aquatic birds due to the degradation of wetlands. Of the over 150 kinds of the migratory birds that visit Nepal each year, over 100 are aquatic birds that make the country's wetlands their home. This is also why we must put a check on human activities that are detrimental to the existence of wetlands, including urban expansion and pollution.
Nepal signed the Ramsar Convention in 1987, and has committed itself to protecting its wetlands that cover nearly 5.5 percent of the country's total land area, including the 10 wetlands of international significance. However, in Nepal, rapid urbanisation and expansion of tourist activities have led to encroachment and eventual depletion of wetlands over the years. A case in point is the ever-growing encroachment of the Phewa Lake, a major Ramsar site in Pokhara, with hundreds of new concrete structures coming up each year even as government agencies neglect their duty to preserve the area.
Nepal must deliver on its policies and strategies that seek to streamline the conservation of Ramsar sites in Nepal by effectively engaging federal, provincial and local stakeholders. It must also create awareness among the people about the social, cultural, ecological and economic imperatives of wetland conservation. It is also incumbent on the citizens to ensure that they preserve water bodies in their vicinity, and stop them from being turned into concrete jungles. We must commit ourselves to not turning wetlands into wastelands and preserve our ecology for future generations.