Recently, climate change adaptation concerns in India have emphasized Himalayan areas and agriculture farmers. Indian wetlands and mangrove forests, however, have received less attention despite their increasing degradation in India. An upcoming film by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), is hoping to highlight the value and need for focus on these regions- which not only carry enormous ecological value but are source for livelihoods for many in India.
Wetland and mangrove areas have been advocated for their ecological value including their role as biodiversity hotspots for some endangered species. Internationally, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was set up in 1971 to support the establishment of protected wetland areas globally. India currently houses 25 Ramsar sites though it has been reported that India potentially has over 200 sites qualifying for Ramsar protection status. To add to its national importance, wetlands and mangrove areas in India are not concentrated to a single state. The observed vulnerability of these habitats has caused concerns in the past decade as there is an alarming rate of degradation and decreasing area cover of such habitats throughout India’s coastal areas.
Threats and Management concerns
The threats facing these valuable habitats include pollution from sewage and waste, land encroachment, and misuse. In early February, wetland dwellers near the city of Kolkata gathered to voice their rights and highlight concerns over the degradation of their surroundings due to city pollution and climate change impacts. Livelihoods concerns are also prevalent. Rising sea levels threaten the natural vegetation but even more disconcerting is the inundation of coastal villages forcing many to migrate. As highlighted in the CSE film, villagers in India’s Sunderbans region- a mangrove hotspot- have lost homes due to rising water levels and trying to adapt to their rapidly changing environment.
Governance and management over wetlands face regulatory battles as has been the case in Kerala. Once again, as in water resources, state-central government discrepancies over management of wetlands, has limited proper resource management. The National Action Plan on Climate Change proposes a directive to change India’s lack of information by initiating an inventory of wetlands and mangrove areas. Awareness of wetland value and subsequent degradation is occurring in cities such as Mumbai and Hyderabad.
With growing recognition on the importance of wetland areas has kindled a necessary evaluation on the state of India’s wetlands. Having been labeled as part of “India’s environmental riches,” wetlands deserve further discussion and inclusion in the Government’s environmental and climate policy.