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Wetlands Day drowns in neglect

Ignatius Pereira
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No State programmes lined up for tomorrow at the official level

As another World Wetlands Day arrives on Saturday, the State government seems oblivious of its importance in saving these rich repositories of biodiversity.

At the official level, the occasion seems to have gone unnoticed with no programmes lined up. Kerala has 1,60,590 hectares of wetlands, four of them Ramsar sites and many fragile. The State cannot afford complacency as they continue shrinking, facing degradation from infilling, pollution and destruction of ecosystems.

“Wetlands and water management” is the universal theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day, anniversary of the adoption of the Convention of Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. The celebrations aim to raise people’s awareness of the interdependence between water and wetlands, as one cannot exist without the other, and highlight ways to ensure the equitable sharing of water. Environmentalists form a strong group and the media are sensitive to environmental issues in the State, but still, the activists say, the occasion has gone unnoticed.

Wetlands remain an integral part of the State’s cultural, social and economic life, but are fragile. The Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, of the Indian Space Research Organisation, in a study sponsored by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in February 2010, has found out that the State has 1,762 wetlands. In addition, 2,592 wetlands with areas smaller than 2.25 hectares have been identified. The major wetland types in the State are rivers or streams (65,162 ha), lagoons (38,442 ha), reservoirs (26,167 ha) and waterlogged areas (20,305 ha).

Environmentalists demand an environment department to protect the wetlands. Now they are at the hands of several departments, and “too many cooks spoil the broth,” V.K. Madhusudhanan, leading environment activist, says.

He points out that the National Environment Policy demands a holistic view of wetlands, with a regulatory framework and programmes to alleviate poverty and generate employment. The policy calls for concerted action by the States and the Union Territories, but the Centre can at best play a catalytic role. The National Programme for Conservation and Management of Wetlands has emerged as a flagship scheme with Central assistance provided as a grant. Mr. Madhusudhanan says the State has even failed to avail itself of the grants. Nor has it carried forward the Kuttanad Package. While the Coastal Regulation Zone notification on January 7, 2011, stipulates that a Coastal Zone Management Plan be prepared within two years from that date, the State has not taken steps to draft that plan.

The Wetland Conservation Rules, 2010, call upon the State governments to identify and classify wetlands within a year from the notification and submit a draft document to the Union government. The State has not complied with the directive.

Mr. Madhusudhanan says the wetlands support more than 20 per cent of the biodiversity of Kerala. Their conservation can provide concrete solutions to water crisis. But they are being destroyed in every district.

The study by the Space Applications Centre says four districts are wetland-rich — Alappuzha leading with 26,079 ha on the back of the famous Vembanad wetlands, followed by Ernakulam (25,065 ha), Kollam (13,703 ha) and Thrissur (13,285 ha). Wayanad has the lowest area — 3,866 ha.


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