Wetlands work like kidneys. Like kidneys help to maintain water balance inside our body in the same way wetlands maintain the water balance on earth. Now here so many questions arise like what actually the wetlands are? Where are they located? How do they function? What is there need?
So , As per the Ramsar Convention, Wetlands have been defined as " areas of marsh , or water , whether natural or artificial , permanent or temporary , with water that is static or flowing , fresh , brackish or salt , including areas of marine water the depth of water at low tide does not exceed six meters".
The World Wildlife Fund and the University of Kassel in Germany developed the Global Lakes and Wetlands Database (GLWD) that shows 10 million square kilometres of wetlands, about 7percent of earth's surface is covered by them.
In Jammu and Kashmir (then undivided state) the National Wetlands Atlas (NWA):2011 had listed 3651 wetlands covering about 3, 91,501 ha. Among the total 3651 wetlands 2240 have area less than 2.25ha. The region has four wetlands Surinsar- Mansar, Hokersar, Wular and Tsomoriri ( now in Ladakh) of International Importance that have been identified under Ramsar Convention .Besides in September 2019 the Central government has identified 12 wetlands for precedent restoration over next five years .
Wetlands are vital for earth, however due to pollution and encroachment they have been destroyed. Wetlands serve as the habitat for many plant and animal species. They clean the earth. Like our kidneys clean our body likewise wetlands clean our environment .They reduce the impact of floods although they improve the quality of water. They maintain water balance. Wetlands are unique ecosystems where terrestrial and aquatic habitats meet. In addition to habitats for many plant and animal species, wetlands provide a wide variety of recreational activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, photography etc.
According to a research there are several birds which are most sighted in the wetlands of Kashmir which include " Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Brahminy Duck, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, and Eurasian Wigeon . It is also reported that around 106 species of birds comfortably settle in these wetlands, furthermore 25 species of land birds which visit every now and then and many endangered species.
How do wetlands function or how do they purify water?
They purify water by impeding surface runoff, processing organic wastes and extracting or retaining inorganic nutrients and reducing suspended sediments before they enter into surface water .E.g., as the runoff water passes through wetlands, they retain or process excess nitrogen and phosphorus, perish organic pollutants, and trap suspended sediments that would otherwise clog waterways and affect the wetland ecosystem.
What is the need of wetlands?
Sometime in the past there was a misconception among people regarding wetlands as useless, and disease ridden areas and these places were to be avoided. Now we realize that these wetlands aren't useless, they provide many benefits to our environment. Wetlands can also be called as "Biological Supermarkets” as they produce a variety of foods which attract different animal species. Wetlands provide us many educational and research opportunities. These can serve as the best recreational sites and going there can bring calmness of mind.
Compared to rain forests and coral reefs, wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. It is the need of hour to protect and save these wetlands from getting extinct. Destroying, polluting or encroaching them is an inhuman act. Protecting wetlands can, in turn, protect our health and safety by reducing flood damage and preserving water quality. Our wetlands provide livelihood to hundreds of families besides helping the rich biodiversity. Governments have shown utter disregard to these facts, as a result of which there are weak community feelings towards conserving our own lakes and water bodies. With the community as well as the government failing, the wetlands would disappear, and with them would disappear the fauna we proudly say are found in the valley. The pollution and gradual shrinking of the water bodies in the valley has been a cause of concern for Kashmiris. The first priority should be to stem further pollution by taking measures like up gradation of drainage and sewerage system in the catchment areas, removal of encroachments, relocation and rehabilitation of the affected people.
(The author is a Nursing Student at Arsh Institute of Health Sciences & Technology khanmoh Srinagar)