There were about 500 lakes in the valley of Manipur in the beginning of 20th century. The numbers have reduced drastically, as several lakes disappeared over the years. Hardly 55 lakes were found existing in the state by the 1950s. Today, according to the recent survey conducted by the Remote Sensing Application Centre Government of Manipur, the state has only 17 lakes and two-ox-bow lakes. Hence, the state needs to take urgent action for protection of wetlands in the state, as it joins the world in observing World Wetlands Day.
Among the existing lakes, the Loktak Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in the state. It is the most important freshwater lake not only in the state but also in the entire Northeast India. But, now, its fate is uncertain as it is the ‘’Apple of Thesaurus’’ for political bigwigs and for those who are pretending to save it.
Other important existing lakes in the state which are on the verge of disappearing are Ikop, Waithou, Ngakrapat and Loushipat. These lakes remain threatened due to artificial eutrophication and encroachment for cultivation and fish farming.
Some of the highly degraded lakes in the valley areas are Kharungpat, Khoidumpat, Pumlen Pat, Sanapat, Yaralpat and Poiroupat. Lamphelpat, Porompat and Akampat are no longer a lake but still the skeleton of being a one time lake can be seen.
Historically, these wetlands of Manipur have been emotionally related to cultural and ritual activities, fortification and recreational activities since the beginning. Therefore, it is high time to rejuvenate these wetlands to restore and maintain the age-old socio-cultural relationship they bear, in tune with the theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day observed on February 2 - "It's Time For Wetlands Restoration".
The World Wetlands Day is celebrated every February 2 to raise awareness among all sections of society about the values and functions of wetlands, utilization of their resources and their environmental importance. Each year, a global theme is adopted to focus attention and help raise public awareness about the value of wetland.
The 2023 Theme - "It's Time For Wetlands Restoration" - highlights the urgent need to prioritize wetland restoration, and calls for urgent action for protection of wetlands, which in India is also the focus of this year’s campaign.
It’s an appeal to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those degraded ones, according to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Wetlands, such as coastal salt marshes, seagrass meadows, tidal mudflats, rivers and streams, lakes, bogs and floodplains, provide food and clean water for millions of people and habitat for a huge range of aquatic, terrestrial and amphibious species. Restoring these landscapes means reviving many of these services and benefits that have been lost or damaged in previous decades.
The UN, meanwhile, says that it is urgent that people raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them.
World’s Wetland Day is the best occasion to enhance people’s understanding of critically important ecosystems.
As per the definition of the United States Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), wetlands are areas where ‘’water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.
Wetlands are some of the planet’s most important ecosystems and play a crucial role in water security, a barrier against natural disasters such as flooding. They also help fight climate change and prevent soil erosion.
They are a haven for wildlife, they filter pollution and are important stores of carbon and form one of the most important sinks for greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. But they’re also one of the earth’s most threatened habitats.
Some 85 per cent of wetland present in 1700 was lost by 2000, many drained to make way for development, farming or other productive uses, disappearing three times faster than forest, and their loss spells an existential threat for hundreds of thousands of animals and plant species.
Healthy wetlands - critical for climate mitigation, adaptation, biodiversity and human health and prosperity-punch above their weight in terms of benefits, says Leticia Carvalho, Principal Coordinator for Marine and Freshwater at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Making sure that they continue to deliver vital ecosystem services to humanity requires their prioritization, protection, restoration, better management and monitoring.
Wetlands, which include marshes and peat lands, are the unsung heroes of the climate crisis. They store more carbon than any other ecosystem, with peat lands alone storing twice as much as the entire world’s forest. Inland wetland ecosystems also absorb excess water and help prevent floods and drought, widely seen as critical to helping communities adapt to a changing climate. It’s encouraging that there is increasing recognition of wetlands as an invaluable but overlooked nature-based solution.
Wetlands built by humans, such as reservoirs, also contribute to human well-being and have other benefits. One project in the Baltic, for instance, aims to improve water quality in lagoons polluted by fertilizer run-off using floating, vegetation-rich wetlands to remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Wetlands teeming with species are a key ally in our fight to stop biodiversity loss. Over 140,000 described species- including 55 per cent of all fishes rely on freshwater habitats for their survival.
Freshwater species are important to local ecosystems, provide sources of food and income to humans and are key to flood and erosion control. Yet wetlands species are going extinct more rapidly than terrestrial or marine species, with almost a third of all freshwater biodiversity facing extinction due to invasive species, pollution, habitat loss and over-harvesting.
The good news is that protection, sustainable management and restoration of wetlands works. Improving management of wetlands brings health, food and water security benefits- critical to the health and livelihood of 4 billion people reliant on wetlands services, says the Global Wetland Outlook.
Under sustainable development Goal-6, Target-6, all countries are committed to protecting and restoring wetlands by 2030 and UNEP has a special role in helping to monitor and achieve that target.
The Okavango Delta in Botswana and Pantanal in Brazil are iconic examples of inland, vegetated wetlands teeming with wildlife. But wetlands come in many shapes and sizes and are uniquely under pressure from demographic and development forces, notably from agriculture.
The lack of conservation of wetlands can have harmful consequences in several aspects such as climate change mitigation, water and food security, disaster management and so on. Therefore, conservation of wetlands is crucial to prevent the biodiversity of the country.
In 1971, Convention on Wetland of International Importance also known as Ramsar Convention was held near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Ramsar in Iran.
February 2, World wetland day is the United Nations International Day of Importance. The Convention on Wetland of International Importance was signed on February 2, 1971 to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits. It was also aimed to make the World’s population aware of conservation and wise use of wetlands. When the day was founded, five nations signed the Convention. Today, over 170 nations are signatories to the Ramsar Convention and there are over 2400 listed Ramsar wetlands, including in India.
Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s, according to the official website dedicated to the day.
(The views expressed are personal)