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Critical role of wetlands

Danial Norjidi

World Wetlands Day was observed on February 2, with the theme ‘Wetlands Action for People and Nature’.

According to the United Nations (UN) website, it was on August 30, 2021 that the UN General Assembly proclaimed February 2 as World Wetlands Day to raise awareness of the urgency of reversing the accelerating loss of wetlands and to promote their conservation and restoration.

In conjunction with World Wetlands Day, Executive Director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Dr Theresa Mundita S Lim recently stated that as the global community observes the occasion, the ACB joins the celebration and the resounding call for the conservation and restoration of wetlands across ASEAN and beyond.

In the statement, Dr Lim highlighted that this year’s theme underlines the importance of wetlands in sustaining people’s health and livelihood.

“ASEAN is endowed with close to two million square kilometres of inland waters and wetlands and comprise 60 per cent and 42 per cent of the world’s tropical peatlands and mangrove forests, respectively, that provide significant economic and livelihood benefits to the people,” said the executive director.

“More than one billion people in the world depend on wetlands for valuable economic activities, such as irrigated rice farming, water provision, energy sourcing, and tourism.

Wetlands and the biodiversity they host sustain people’s livelihood and health which are an important part of climate actions. PHOTO: GAB MEJIA (COURTESY OF ASEAN CENTRE FOR BIODIVERSITY)

“Significantly, wetlands are central to the solutions to climate change,” she affirmed, sharing that healthy peatlands possess a unique carbon storage function, with twice the capacity of the world’s forest to prevent carbon from escaping into the atmosphere.

She also shared that degraded wetlands emit copious amounts of carbon that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Land development programmes and natural resources extraction that do not take into account the value of wetlands will be unsustainable, losing more investments to stave off impacts that coastal and inland ecosystems could naturally prevent,” she said.

Dr Lim shared that a study undertaken by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the TEEB Philippines (the Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity in the Philippines) and the Resources, Environment, and Economics Centre for Studies in 2014 points out that the net benefits from the development of portions of the Manila Bay is greater if there is added ecosystem rehabilitation integrated into the plan.

She further noted that at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 last year, as the call for zero net emissions were raised, the critical role of wetlands as among the nature-based solutions was underscored along with urgent actions such as mobilising finance for the conservation of these vital ecosystems.

“Inland waters provide vital life services to all. These ecosystems serve as home to unique vegetation and organisms that help wetlands serve many functions. However, habitat loss due to anthropogenic drivers is bound to displace the wildlife species – a number of which act as natural virus reservoirs – and increase the risk of direct transmission from wildlife to domestic animals and human populations.”

The executive director highlighted that, with the many benefits wetlands provide, whole-of-society actions become all the more urgent.

“Ensuring healthy and well-managed wetlands requires the engagement of different stakeholders: communities that directly and indirectly benefit from wetlands; business and industry sectors that contribute to the local economy; academic and research institutions that contribute to the growing body of knowledge relevant to conservation; and the local, national, and regional governments responsible for developing and implementing policies – we all have a stake in responding to the call to wetland action.”

Dr Lim said, “This timely celebration of World Wetlands Day is a reminder of the urgent collective action needed to curb wetlands degradation and biodiversity loss.”

“It is also fitting that the first official World Wetlands Day – after the UN declaration – is observed under the able chairship of Cambodia – with the theme ‘ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together’.”

“Against this backdrop, we continue to be guided by the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework that moving beyond silos and mobilising cross-sectoral support is a clear way forward to overcome the crises our world is facing today,” she said.

With regards to wetlands, the UN website states, “Though they cover only around six per cent of the Earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.

“Wetland biodiversity matters for our health, our food supply, for tourism and for jobs.

Wetlands are vital for humans, for other ecosystems and for our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification.”