Wetlands Are Crucial To Sustainable Development But Barely A Part Of The Discourse

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Every year, World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2 to commemorate the date of adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971. Wetlands can comprise many different kinds of water structures making it quite difficult to define one. Hence, the most accepted definition of a wetland as per Article 1 of the Ramsar Convention is, “Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland 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 which at low tide does not exceed six meters.”

Ramsar is a city in modern-day Iran and as of January 2016, 169 nations have joined the Convention as Contracting Parties, and more than 2,220 wetlands around the world, covering over 214 million hectares, have been designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

In the Indian scenario, as of 2019, there are 27 wetlands that have been designated under the Ramsar Convention.

I got introduced to the term ‘wetland’ a couple of years earlier and since then I have been always intrigued by any news item that pops up on it. I had the opportunity to study wetlands as a subject during my master’s level at TERI SAS, New Delhi. I have also had the chance to study and work on a system of constructed wetlands inside the Sanjay Van urban forest located on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, near the new JNU campus.

The treated sewage water of Vasant Kunj in South West Delhi comes inside this forest, which further gets treated in a system of cascading lakes or wetlands wherein specific species of plants are planted in each stage, and as the water goes from one lake to another it gets more purified than what it was earlier.

We were given the task of checking the BOD levels at each stage of these lakes along with other water quality monitoring indicators. Interestingly, we also came across dragonflies towards the later stages of the wetlands. Dragonflies are ‘indicator species’, meaning they are responsible for indicating that a respective water body is clean or healthy.

Out of the 27 Ramsar wetlands listed above, there are two wetlands that come under the Montreux record, i.e the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan and the Loktak Lake of Manipur. The Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the list of Ramsar wetlands of international importance where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference. The first wetland that was placed under this record was the Chilika Lake, but later it was removed owing to the excellent conservation efforts around the site.

Likewise, mangroves are another category of wetlands that are extremely important in order to protect the coastal areas during events such as tsunami and cyclones. I had the chance of planting mangrove saplings of Rhyzophora in one of the coasts near Baros Bantul Regency in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The following video makes it clear:

Ecosystem Services

Wetlands are extremely important in providing certain ecosystem services. They are mainly of four types:

  1. ‘Regulating services’ are defined as the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes. They include climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water regulation, water purification and waste management and disease regulation.
  2. ‘Provisioning services’ are the products obtained from ecosystems. These include food, fresh water, wood, fibre, genetic resources, and medicines.
  3. ‘Supporting services’ are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. Their impacts are either indirect or occur over a very long time. Examples of supporting services include biomass production, production of atmospheric oxygen, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and provisioning of habitat.
  4. ‘Cultural services’ is the umbrella term used for the non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems, such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, reflection, religious experience, and recreation. It comprises knowledge systems, social relations, aesthetic values and appreciation of nature.

As a person who has spent her major childhood in Assam, coming across ‘beels’ was a very common phenomenon for me. It was only at the college level that I got to know that these are known as wetlands. Beels are extremely important for flood control in Assam and they are profitable for the poor fishermen during the monsoons when suddenly there is a rise in the catch of local fish. They are also important for various avian species including the migratory birds. Some of the beels in Upper Assam have been successful as ecotourism projects, which are mostly CSR-funded by rich oil and gas PSUs in the region.

The following casual loop diagram gives a loose idea as to how these projects work:


The Ramsar mission is “The conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

In the context of sustainable development which often remains in a status of conflict with many ‘developmental projects’, without wetlands there can genuinely never be any kind of development. There needs to the right linkage between ecology, economy, and policy with a holistic approach to water, wetlands, and forest.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This post is also a part of YKA's first user-run series, Water Wars, by Zeba Ahsan. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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