Here’s How Wetlands Offer Natural Solutions To Global Climate Challenges

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We are living in the 21st century, the century of climate change, and now we are vulnerable to the possibility of sixth mass extinction. An estimated one million species are predicted to disappear. Biodiversity is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, and the rate of extinction is accelerating. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. Changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species are major challenges.

Healthy ecosystems regulate the climate and provide the raw materials and resources for our economies and lives. The annual global value of natural services each year is estimated to be $125 trillion. According to the World Economic Forum, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are among the biggest risks to economic development.

Wetlands Under Threat

The most endangered ecosystems are wetlands. The world has lost 87% of wetlands in the past 300 years and 35% since 1970. Today, they are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem; three times faster than even the forests. As they are destroyed, so is the life within them. More than 25% of wetland plants and animals, which represent about 40% of the world’s species, are at risk of extinction.

Why Wetlands Are Important?

The Ramsar Convention (Article 1.1) defined wetlands as: “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.” In addition, the convention (Article 2.1) states that wetlands: “may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six meters at low tide lying within the wetlands.”

Wetlands are also among the planet’s most effective carbon sinks and play a central role in climate regulation.

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable with rain forests and coral reefs. Over a billion people make a living from the wetlands. The global monetary value of natural wetland ecosystem services is now estimated at $47.4 trillion per year; 43.5% of the value of all the natural biomes.

In the wetland ecosystem, water is the primary factor controlling both the plant and animal life. Wetlands are found on every continent, except Antarctica from the tundra to the tropics. Wetlands fall into four general categories: marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. Marshes are wetlands dominated by soft-stemmed vegetation, while swamps have mostly woody plants. Bogs are freshwater wetlands, often formed in old glacial lakes, characterized by spongy peat deposits, evergreen trees and shrubs, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of sphagnum moss. Fens are freshwater peat-forming wetlands covered mostly by grasses, sedges, reeds, and wildflowers.

Wetlands are considered as “biological supermarkets”, “nurseries of life” and “the kidneys of the landscape”.

Wetlands favour a particular type of trees, shrubby species, herbs, grasses and algae. Typical characteristic species of the wetland ecosystem include, hydrophytes such as Cyperus, Azolla, Nymphaea, Typha, Potamogoton, Wolffia, Phragmites, Eichhornia etc., and tree species include species of Ficus, Tamarindus indica, Mimusops, Syzygium, Terminalia, Acacia, Mangifera, etc. There occurs a diverse variety of species of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals in wetlands. Some birds, for example, Plover, Goose, Crane, Flamingo like feed and breed in wetlands.

Due to typical functions like wildlife habitat and food chain support, groundwater recharge, water purification, nutrient retention and flood control, wetlands are considered as “biological supermarkets”, “nurseries of life” and “the kidneys of the landscape”.

Wetlands are also among the planet’s most effective carbon sinks and play a central role in climate regulation. Peatlands store 30% of land-based carbon. That is why Nordic countries (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden) have embarked on large-scale peatland restoration, with positive knock-on effects for wildlife.

Wetlands In India 

India is very rich in wetland habitats; wetlands in India (excluding rivers) account for 18.4% of the country’s geographical area, of which, 70% is under paddy cultivation. Till now, there were 21 “Ramsar sites in India”. Recently, the Ramsar Convention declared ten more sites in India as sites of international importance for the conservation of global biological diversity. This brings the total of Ramsar sites to 37 and the surface area covered by these sites to 1,067,939 ha.

Case Of Sarsai Nawar Wetland

Ramsar Convention has given an International Status to ‘Sarsai Nawar wetland. Under the National Wetlands Conservation Programme (NWCP), 115 wetlands have been identified till now by the Ministry of Environment (India), and Sarsai Nawar (area 161.27 ha.) is part of this. Sarsai Nawar is a vast and beautiful wetland (it is an open form of fen) situated in Takha block of District Etawah.

Sarsai Nawar wetland

In India, wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 2% to 3% every year, and Sarsai Nawar wetland is also facing threats of existence; major threats are anthropogenic activities, agriculture activities, deforestation, pesticides pollution, rural sewage pollution, introduced species threats due to Eichhornia, etc. Trapa and Eichhornia have an adverse impact on aquatic ecosystems.

In 2012, this wetland was nearly a collapsed ecosystem. Conservation of this wetland was a must for the survival of Sarus Cranes and many other migratory birds as this wetland is an important part of their life and is a must for their survival. Migrating birds use this wetland to rest and feed during their cross-continental journeys and as nesting sites when they are at home. As a result, wetland loss has a serious impact on these species.

Sarsai Nawar wetland during the summer season in 2012.

The leadership of the then District Magistrate Etawah (Uttar Pradesh, India) Mr Vidya Bhushan, saved this nearly dead ecosystem and gave it a new life in 2012. I was also a member of his ‘save Sarsai Nawar team’ along with Sarus expert Dr Rajeev Chauhan and Junior Engineer of Block Takha Mr Raaj Tripathi. Pictures after two years of revival (2014) were really impressive.

World’s Largest Mangrove Restoration

The world’s largest mangrove restoration in Senegal, led to increased biodiversity, higher rice yields, and increased fish, oyster, and shrimp stocks. Along with improved food security, surplus catches continue to bring valuable income for villagers.

Challenges

Despite all the jobs and other vital benefits that wetlands provide, 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. The remaining wetlands are also degraded to the extent that the people who directly rely on wetlands for their living are driven into poverty.

In addition, by 2025, it is estimated that 35% of people will directly face declining water supplies. This is the result of our wrong interpretation that wetlands are wastelands. Wetland loss turns a natural carbon sink into a source of emissions that adds to global warming. Hence, we must save these ecosystems which could ‘Change Climate Change’.

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. 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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