A major report that will help countries understand the economic value of inland wetlands, which cover a vast area of the earth’s land surface and provide key ecosystem services, was released at the conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity here on Tuesday. The message ofthe report is simply, ‘drain it, lose it.’

Inland wetlands cover at least 9.5 million sq km of the earth’s surface, and together with coastal wetlands, 12.8 million sq km. Restoration of this particular type of ecosystem is the most expensive. These water bodies provide clean water for drinking and agriculture, cooling water for the energy sector; they also regulate floods. Agriculture, fisheries and tourism sectors depend heavily on the health of wetlands.

“In 100 years, we have managed to destroy about 50 per cent of the world’s wetlands, which is a stunning figure,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, at the release of the final consultation draft of the report titled “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands” (TEEB for wetlands). The perception that wetlands are not essential to the functioning of societies and economies, contributes to their destruction. The TEEB report has been commissioned by the Ramsar Convention. India, a signatory to the Convention, has 25 wetlands listed under the covenant (such as Chilika) and about 150 identified wetlands of national importance. The country is being persuaded by international monitors to put in place management plans for the protected sites. Progress in this regard is “partial,” according to Ritesh Kumar, conservation programme manager of international NGO Wetlands International – South Asia.

According to him, the conservation approach in India has to move from a ‘puritanical’ one, to one that emphasises economic value and its vital link to human survival.

Professor Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, said the final TEEB report was scheduled to be released on February 2, 2013, coinciding with Wetlands Day. Flood plains are being built over in many places, resulting in losses to people when there is natural movement of rainwater across these sites.

India’s challenge is to define wetlands on sound lines, and apply the rules it issued in 2010 for conservation and management of these water bodies. Building activity in fast-expanding cities is draining wetlands, and many are also being filled with garbage. There is almost no conservation response from local and State governments, an activist said at the release of the report.

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