The Mirror of Manipur || Fast, Factual and Fearless.

Strategizing a New Outlook on Wetlands


In Manipur, and elsewhere around the globe, the instances are galore on wetlands gradually dying slow deaths. For the State, it is too often quoted on how the two most important urban wetlands – Porompat and Lamphelpat – have been subjected to such extent of physical abuse that they are almost dead today, hardly nothing is left to classify them as ‘natural wetlands’ in the present context.


By Salam Rajesh

The core discussions on bringing in strategies to address the climate issues now focuses on wetlands as a major source of carbon sequestration to reduce excessive carbon presence in the atmosphere, while addressing the livelihood needs of local people who exist alongside wetlands.

Going through the pace of ‘The Source’ – Wetlands International’s Annual Review for 2021 – it fairly is evident that the global organization responsible for monitoring the health of wetlands across the globe is formulating strategies over a ten-year period between 2020 and 2030, which also corresponds to the United Nations’ Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Outlining its “Strategic Intent” for the period 2020-2030, Wetlands International says the organization aims to “safeguard and restore tens of millions of hectares of wetlands, bringing multiple returns for nature and people. Our theory of change encapsulates the three main phases of our work: to inspire, mobilise and upscale. These are the key ingredients of our organizational strategy for the period 2020-2030”.

Wetlands International further defines its priority for the target in sight stating that, “For this period, we are orientating our work to achieve three, interconnected global impacts: healthy wetlands, resilient wetland communities, and reduced climate risks”.

This vision strategy, however, also brings to the spotlight the various issues related to wetlands, particularly the criticism that most wetlands designated as Ramsar sites under the Ramsar Convention are in a state of abject neglect, abused by local people and developers alike, and subjected to various forms of physical abuse – pollution, siltation, degradation through physical modification, reclamation and encroachments.

The general definition of wetlands is that they occur wherever ‘water meets land’ – mangroves, peatlands, marshes, rivers, lakes, deltas, floodplains, flooded forests, rice-fields, and even coral reefs.

As the global organization points out, “Wetlands exist in every country across the world and in every type of region – polar, tropical, wet, dry, high and low altitude”. It re-emphasizes that “healthy wetlands are key to restoring nature and healing our climate, yet the world has lost up to 65% of its original wetlands. Urgent action is needed to reverse this decline and revive these natural wonders”.

Wetland declination across the world is a major concern today, as the focus reverts back to the singular contribution of the water bodies towards climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, especially given the emerging significance of wetlands as major source of carbon sequestration. Earlier, the entire focus was on forest ecosystem as the ‘major source’ of carbon sequestration – the green carbon sinks.

Everywhere across the globe there are myriad stories of wetlands disappearing, disintegrated into lifeless entities as people drains out the water for reclaiming to take up agriculture, farming, urbanization, and settlement sites.

The corresponding fallout with the loss of the natural reservoirs have resulted in many forms of ‘backlash’, such as the increased incidence of flashfloods in urban areas, frequent inundation during the monsoons, overflowing of rivers – a simple understanding is that the storm water discharge cannot be absorbed as soon as there is a downpour in the absence of a channelized system that naturally drains out the storm water into the natural reservoirs.

In Manipur, and elsewhere around the globe, the instances are galore on wetlands gradually dying slow deaths. For the State, it is too often quoted on how the two most important urban wetlands – Porompat and Lamphelpat – have been subjected to such extent of physical abuse that they are almost dead today, hardly nothing is left to classify them as ‘natural wetlands’ in the present context.

Jane Madgwick, Chief Executive Officer of Wetlands International, says with much conviction, “With peatlands storing twice as much carbon as the world’s forests, wetlands must be at the centre of the narrative on how we can meet our global climate goals”.

Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, have this to say, too, “Less than 1% of the water on Earth is usable freshwater and is mostly stored in wetlands such as rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, estuaries, and aquifers. We are in a water crisis with profound consequences and wetlands are at the heart of its resolution”.

To this, Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General adds in that pinch of salt to the ‘wound’, simplifying that, “Marshes and other wetlands may seem unproductive and inhospitable to humans, but in fact they provide us with essential services. They store carbon, give us clean water and food, protect us from floods, as well as offer habitats for one in ten of the world’s known species”.

As a set target of its decade-long wetland restoration program, Wetlands International intends to select intact wetland ecosystems across the globe and restore others within a full range of wetland types. The organization aims to ‘restore freshwater systems, peatlands, deltas and coastal ecosystems for their intrinsic, cultural and ecosystem service values, and to prioritize ecological networks that connect landscapes, such as flyways and swim-ways’.

Wetlands International additionally aims to ‘prevent further wetland loss and degradation that undermines the natural productivity and water storage capacities of peatlands, floodplains, mangrove forests, deltas and lakes. We aim to improve and diversify the livelihoods of people dependent on wetlands, and promote best practices in agriculture and aquaculture, integrating wetland values into the local economy’.

This latter statement reflects back hard on the prevailing ground situation in terms of the physical abuse of the Loktak Lake dwellers and those dependent on the wetland for their living and sustenance. Human interventions in the form of a hydro project, so-said development schemes, and ill-conceived wetland management plans have jeopardized the lives of the marginalized fishing community to a scale where the fishers are facing an uncertain lifestyle today.

The United Nations’ focus – and so is the Wetlands International’s – is on the proactive participation of local people, especially the Indigenous peoples for whom wetlands are traditionally their commons upon which they thrive, in the overall rejuvenation and subsequently the long term conservation of the water bodies. To achieve the objective, Indigenous peoples need to be roped in as co-managers (or, co-partners) in wetland management.

As a part of its decade-long program, Wetlands International seeks to ‘reduce societal conflict and displacement from wetlands’, where its set goal is to “particularly strive to resolve situations where deterioration of wetlands – caused by upstream abstraction, climate change or population growth – contributes to loss of livelihoods, human displacement, conflict and migration”.

It would further seek to undertake ‘peace building and conflict resolution measures to address imbalanced power relations between stakeholders, building capacity for vulnerable and marginalized people to defend their rights to water and wetland resources’ – a resolve that is fundamentally necessary back home in Manipur where for decades Loktak fishers have faced human rights violation in many forms.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

You might also like
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.