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World Wetlands Day 2024: thriving wetlands, thriving humans

World Wetlands Day, held every February 2, represents a crucial opportunity to reflect on the importance of these vital ecosystems for our planet and human wellbeing. In 2024, the theme focuses on the connections between wetlands and human wellbeing, highlighting how the health of these ecosystems is inextricably linked to our physical, mental and environmental health. Wetlands not only provide freshwater and livelihoods, but also inspire our culture and strengthen our resilience to environmental challenges.

Wetlands, which comprise from marshes and swamps to deltas and estuaries, are indispensable given their ability to purify water, regulate climate, protect against extreme weather events, and support a rich biodiversity. They act as carbon sinks, storing large amounts of CO2 and playing a crucial role in climate change mitigation. World Wetlands Day is therefore an opportunity to promote awareness, appreciation and action for wetlands.

World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to promote awareness, appreciation and action for wetlands

Beyond their ecological importance, and as this year's celebration emphasises, wetlands are fundamental to human wellbeing. They provide food, clean water and materials, as well as opportunities for tourism and recreation. For thousands of years, people have established settlements near wetlands to access fish and other food sources, as well as freshwater for crops and livestock, and the staple diet of more than half the world depends on wetland-grown products. Urban wetlands, in particular, improve the quality of life in cities by filtering pollutants, reducing flooding, and providing green space for recreation and connection to nature. According to Ramsar data, an inland wetland of about 4,000 m2 absorbs up to 5.7 million litres of floodwater, helping to reduce flooding and delay and alleviate droughts.

Wetlands: the most threatened ecosystem on the planet

Wetlands, which cover approximately 6% of the world's land surface, are the most threatened ecosystem on the planet, and more than 80% of them have disappeared since the 18th century. This accelerated loss, three times faster than that of forests, threatens not only biodiversity but also the livelihoods and health of millions of people. Pollution, overexploitation, climate change and urbanisation are some of the factors driving their degradation.

As a result, wetland species are at risk of extinction: they are declining faster than those in other ecosystems; one in three freshwater species and 25% of all wetland species face extinction due to wetland deterioration; and 81% of inland wetland species and 36% of coastal and marine species have declined in the last fifty years. This loss not only reduces biodiversity but also compromises the crucial ecosystem services that these habitats provide.

Pollution, overexploitation, climate change and urbanisation are some of the factors driving wetland degradation

Human activity and climate change are driving wetland degradation. On the one hand, agriculture remains one of the main drivers of wetland loss and degradation. On the other, water and plastic pollution and overfishing, along with invasive species, are damaging them. In addition, as cities grow and demand for land increases, urbanisation encroaches on wetlands.

Faced with this reality, it is imperative to act collectively and decisively. The Convention on Wetlands stresses the need for sustainable management of wetlands, promoting their wise use and investment in their conservation and restoration. In this regard, meeting the climate challenge requires ambitious conservation and restoration of wetlands by society as a whole.

Why is it important to protect wetlands?

  1. They provide almost all of our freshwater
  2. They are essential for food security.
  3. Our health depends on well-functioning ecosystems, including wetlands.
  4. They provide services that are drivers of good health.
  5. Research shows that wetland landscapes positively influence mental wellbeing.
  6. Wetlands offer recreational opportunities, such as fishing, water sports, and swimming, allowing people to relax and manage stress.
  7. The rich biodiversity of wetlands supports the quality of life of people around the world.
  8. They provide employment and help eradicate poverty.
  9. They help us mitigate climate change and its effects and adapt to them.
  10. They have inspired the creative and spiritual minds of human beings since the beginning of time.
  11. Places with abundant water became the cradles of great civilisations.
  12. They are a cherished part of cultural and spiritual life.

Wetlands and water

Places with abundant water not only became the cradles of great civilisations; wetlands have sustained and inspired humankind since the beginning of time. However, the Convention on Wetlands warns that our water consumption has increased six-fold in 100 years and is increasing by about 1% annually. Moreover, almost all of the world's freshwater sources are at risk: 82% of the world's population is exposed to high levels of pollution in their water supply.

Our water consumption has increased six-fold in 100 years and is increasing by about 1% annually

Every day, people around the world are working to protect these ecosystems and the water sector is one of the key players. Better management of the world's wetlands can help provide clean drinking water, drastically reducing health problems and infant mortality.

Urban and water resource planning that incorporates wetlands and their benefits improves the health and wellbeing of city dwellers. In fact, Ramsar assures that we could have enough water if we valued and managed wetlands and water better, through their protection, restoration and wise use.

As has been emphasized many times before, protecting these ecosystems is more than an environmental issue; it is a necessity for our survival and wellbeing. Actions to safeguard wetlands must range from understanding their value to supporting policies and practices that promote their health and resilience. In this context, World Wetlands Day is not just a date to commemorate, but a call to action for all of us to ensure a sustainable future where wetlands continue to nurture and protect life in all its forms.

Every wetland is important. Every effort counts.