Running dryGovt should work closely with local communities to conserve wetlands
Yesterday, on the occasion of the World Wetlands Day (WWD), the nine-lake cluster of the Pokhara Valley—Phewa, Begnas, Rupa, Dipang, Gunde, Madi, Neurani, Kamal and Khaste—were formally listed on the acclaimed Ramsar Sites. February 2 marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in Ramsar, the Iranian city on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Convention is an intergovernmental treaty for conservation and sustainable management of wetlands such as lakes, marshes and swamps; 169 countries, including Nepal, are party to the Convention.
The Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland has been providing outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance of wetlands since 1997. It chose ‘Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods’ as the theme for this year’s WWD to highlight the roles of wetlands in securing the future of humanity.
With the latest addition to the list, Nepal is now home to 18 Ramsar Sites. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve was the first Ramsar Site listed from Nepal in 1987. Nepal signed the Ramsar Convention the following year on April 17.
The addition of some wetlands as Ramsar Sites is a positive development in that it provides some much-needed attention to these sites. However, due to the lack of proper conservation measures, many of the previously listed sites are facing a bleak situation. Encroachment and sedimentation are putting the existing Ramsar Sites in the Tarai at risk. Mai Pokhari in Ilam is witnessing depleting water level due to sedimentation and the spreading of water hyacinths and other invasive plants. Similarly, high-altitude Ramsar Sites are facing conservation challenges due to their remoteness and growing developmental activities such as the construction of roads.
While conservationists argue that inclusion of wetlands in the Ramsar Sites is inadequate for their preservation, government officials see it as an important first step. Maheshwar Dhakal, under-secretary at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), the implementing organisation for the Ramsar Convention, said that if we did not work on garnering international attention like the Ramsar listing for some important wetlands, they would not get conservation efforts even at the local levels.
Wetlands occupy only about six percent of Nepal’s total area, but they are important from the points of view of biodiversity and livelihood. They harbour significant species and habitat diversities—about one fourth of the biodiversity found in Nepal—and provide a wide range of income-generating opportunities for local communities, including indigenous ones. According to a 2014 government report (Nepal Fifth National Report to Convention on Biological Diversity), 20 ethnic communities are traditionally dependent on wetlands for their livelihoods, in the forms of agriculture and fishery, for example. These communities possess valuable indigenous knowledge about wetlands. The DNPWC should work closely with them in its efforts to preserve wetlands. Awareness campaignes should also to be conducted to make the general population more sensitive to the value of wetlands. Not enough attention has been paid to conserve these vital water systems.