We are living a growing crisis that threatens our survival and that of the planet. That is why World Wetlands Day 2021 presents a new opportunity to raise awareness about the value of wetlands, because their destruction prevents nature from replenishing all the water we are using.
Even though our planet seems to have plenty of water, only 2.5% of it is freshwater, most of it stored in glaciers, polar ice caps or groundwater aquifers. Out of that, less than 1% can be used and wetlands provide most of it.
Water, wetlands and life are inseparable
Population growth, urbanisation and consumption patterns exert an unbearable pressure on wetlands and the water they contain. In fact, according to Ramsar, water use increased six-fold in the last 100 years and rises by 1% annually. Looking to the future, the use of water in the industrial and energy sectors is expected to increase by 24% from here to 2050 and, at that rate, by that date 70% more food will be needed, together with 14% more water for agriculture, for an estimated population of 10 billion people. Those facts are very worrisome taking into account that, according to a FAO report on the environmental impact of food wastage, every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted from farm to fork, and the water used to produce them is equivalent to the annual flow of the Volga river, the longest river in Europe.
This problem is in addition to climate change ― the core theme of World Wetlands Day 2019 ―, which exacerbates even more the consequences of the world water crisis (let us not forget that almost 75% of natural disasters are related to water). In fact, this phenomenon is diminishing surface waters and groundwater in already arid regions, leading to more competition for water and the emergence of conflicts related to water resources. The magnitude of this problem is such that water insecurity was a key factor in conflict in at least 45 countries in 2017.
The impact of wetland loss
Wetlands, whether fresh or saltwater wetlands, are crucial to support humankind and nature. Not only do they capture and store rainwater and recharge aquifers, they also regulate the amount and supply of water by providing it at the right moment, place, and in the right amount, and improve water quality by removing and absorbing pollutants. Did you know that more than 1 billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihoods? Considered the most valuable ecosystem, wetlands provide services worth US $47 trillion a year, according to National Geographic data.
In terms of biodiversity ― the theme of World Wetlands Day 2020 ―, 40% of the world’s species live in wetlands and every year 200 new fish species are discovered in freshwater wetlands. However, for years now experts have cautioned that nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since the 1700s, and those remaining are disappearing three times faster than forests. As a result, the number of species is declining faster than at any time in history.
How to conserve wetlands
The importance of wetlands for human life and the planet in general, means we have to pay attention to our behaviour towards wetlands and water, as well as the processes that occur in their environment. We could have enough water if we value and manage wetlands and water better, and consider both as everyone's responsibility. For Ramsar, there are five key points:
- Integrate water and wetlands into development plans and resource management.
- Don’t dam rivers or over extract water from aquifers.
- Address pollution and clean up freshwater sources.
- Increase water efficiency and use wetlands wisely.
- Stop destroying and start restoring wetlands.
Ultimately, we have to promote actions at the local, national and international scale (within the framework of this World Wetlands Day and outside it), integrating water, land and resource management in order to deliver the maximum social and economic well-being, without compromising the sustainability of ecosystems, and with it, the sustainability of future generations.