The conservation of wetlands is vital to combat the dual impact of climate change, water scarcity and flooding.
Two third of earth is water but only 2.53% is fresh water and rest is salt water. Therefore, great importance has been attributed to the fresh water in social and cultural sphere since ancient times. World realizes that without adequate and clean supply of water, life activity is not sustainable. The importance of Wetlands is very important keeping in view the health and ecology of our water system but also being part of our culture and ethos
The Jammu and Kashmir is famous the world over for several of its important Wetlands, which are directly linked to the livelihood requirements of the local populations apart from their ecological, biodiversity, cultural and tourism values. Apart from being the primary habitat for hundreds of species of waterfowl, fish, mammals and insects, they receive a wide variety of migratory birds from Siberia, Northern Europe and Central Asia during the winter months, which add to the beauty. These Wetlands have been subjected to tremendous pressure on account of silt deposition, human interference like encroachments, cultivation and habitation grazing and over extraction of fodder, fuel, fish and wicker-willow etc. The management of Wetlands, therefore, has become important because many of them are being drained or encroached upon by agricultural enterprises and urban areas.
Many years back, an attempt was made to prepare an updated directory of lakes and water bodies using LISS III Satellite data set of 2009 along with Survey of India Topographical Maps (1967) and other secondary information available with limited field checks, revealed that an estimated 565 Lakes and Water Bodies are present in Jammu & Kashmir with 150 in Jammu, 415 in Kashmir. These lakes and Water bodies have always served as enchanting recreational areas and a major economic resource, but in recent times these water bodies have come under a vicious prolonged attack of over exploitation, environmental pollution & human interference, which lead to either disappearance or decrease in the extend of these Lakes and Water Bodies based on satellite data which needs thorough ground trothing after field visits.
In 2018, the government of Jammu and Kashmir dredged the flood spill channel of the Hokersar Wetland in an apparent effort to solve the problem of flooding in Srinagar after the devastation of 2014.
All that happened was that a large part of the Ramsar-designated wetland of international importance 10 km west of Srinagar turned into grassland. When floods returned in the summer of 2022, the wetland could not absorb excess water because a sluice gate has not yet been constructed, in defiance of an order by India’s National Green Tribunal.
The government itself also issued an order (number 230 FST) on September 1, 2016, for the sluice gate so that the wetland – which is a major waterfowl reserve – could have “three to four feet water throughout the year”.
Fed by the perennial Doodhganga River, the Hokersar Wetland is the destination of 68 waterfowl species including the great egret, great crested grebe, little cormorant, common shelduck, tufted duck and endangered ferruginous duck – winter migrants from Siberia, China, Central Asia and northern Europe. Now there is not enough water for them.
The wetland has dried out to such an extent that people are able to drive load carriers inside the wetland and gather fodder for their cows. The wetland was not only deprived of water, but over 80% of the material that had been excavated during dredging was left there, defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.
Wetlands are essential for our wellbeing, inclusive economic growth and climate mitigation & adaptation. They are the most significant source of fresh water for our consumption, agriculture, and maintaining our groundwater table by naturally recharging and filtering it. They act as a natural water sink. They are the most significant terrestrial ecosystem for carbon sequestration and work as a natural systematic carbon sink system. They act as an ‘Ecosystem System Based Disaster Risk Reduction’ structure protecting shores and providing cities and settlements with a safe and climate-resilient prospect. They provide sustainable livelihoods for community welfare and offer a healthy ecosystem for exploring multiple ecosystem services and benefits in parallel to abundant biodiversity and ecological systems support. These low-cost EcoDRR structures provide not only community resilience against water-related risks but enable communities to provide multiple ecosystem services better. Wetlands serve as upstream retention basins protecting downstream cities from flood risk.
Jammu and Kashmir has many wetlands of national importance and international recognition. These water bodies are critical source of livelihood and job opportunities for a large number of population in form of fishing, farming, tourism, etc. Moreover, most of the wetlands in the region fall under Central Asian Flyway Zone (CAF) and are visited by lakhs of migratory and endangered birds during their annual migration march. These wetlands areas also provide safe refuge to native vegetation and wild animals. Their protection is crucial to combat the dual impact of climate change, water scarcity and flooding.
Wings of Hope
The J&K region has a large number of wetlands but their ecological and socio-economic values have not been fully explored. Wetlands in J&K are currently facing multi-dimensional threats due to human encroachments and government apathy. Public awareness is an important factor in saving wetlands of J&K. Even the famous wetlands of Hokersar, Surinsar-Mansar, and Wular face serious threat from anthropogenic activities like increasing human settlements and urbanisation. As wetlands have great importance in our lives, people should take a lead in their conservation, otherwise we are doomed.
The UN’s Agenda 2030 provides a broad roadmap for national and international policy action for governments, civil society, NGOs and other state/non state actors to achieve SDGs for our present and future generations. Our wetlands provide a wide range of natural capital flow in terms of ecosystem services for people and the community’s life and livelihood. Our wetlands could have been developed into important tourism as well as a research destination in J&K. Placing a value on nature’s ecosystem services shouldn’t be misconstrued as putting a price on nature. This situation is the right time for the government to set up wetland governance to protect, conserve and restore wetlands for ensuring a climate-resilient and water surplus future and survive against any health risk or other pandemic risk by restoring, rejuvenating and restructuring our natural ecosystem to become healthier and resilient.