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RAMSAR CONVENTION AND ITS SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN ACCOMPLISHING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

Updated: May 11

Author: Varun Singh, BBA.,LL.B from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.


Introduction – What are wetlands?

Wetlands are defined as any land area that is saturated or flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently. They can be inland and outland such as lakes, aquifers, marshes or coastal, mangroves, estuaries, and coral reefs. Wetlands provide essential services to nature and its inhabitants.


It plays a symbolic role in maintaining the ecological balance and controlling the pollution levels in the world. Wetlands ensure fresh and potable drinking water supply. It supports the drinking water bottle industry estimating to be of $70 billion. Out of the total water which the globe possesses, only 0.75% of it is fit for drinking purpose.


The United Nations projects that 2 billion people will not have safe drinking water by 2025. Wetlands percolate harmful waste from water. Almost 80% of the wastewater is discharged into wetlands without proper rejuvenation and treatment. The plants and other flora absorbs the trash and thus purifies water for safe usage. It is a filter which nature has given to us.


Wetlands also store carbon. Peatlands hold almost 30% of the carbon stored on land. It is twice the amount stored in the forests worldwide. Hence, it provides resilience against climate change.


Wetlands are also natural shock absorbers. They store heavy rainfalls during the storms, and thus they reduce the flooding of the water bodies. Due to the increasing wetlands, there has been a gradual decrease in the drought in African and Asian countries.


Wetlands play a crucial role in balancing biodiversity. It is home to 100,000 water species and is essential for many amphibians, reptiles and migratory birds.


Wetlands help in maintaining a favourable migration pattern. They also cultivate the food supply chain. Wetlands provide 20% of the total rice and fish to the world. Rice is the staple diet of 3.5 billion people and 20% of the total calories consumed by humans. Billions of people depend on rice growing farming and business in Asia, Africa and America.


Wetlands also sustain livelihoods as they support 61.8 million people in fishing and aquaculture business. Commercial fish breeding and raising the young ones also takes place in most of the coastal marshes and wetlands.


International tourists spent almost $1.3 trillion in 2013 in tourism and half of them sought relaxation in wet areas and coastal zones. Wetland supports 268 million jobs. Most of the leading waterway routes are in wetlands, boosting intra and inter-states trade and development. Wetlands play a vital role in backing the developing countries by maintaining the global water cycle so that no one is deprived of potable water. It plays a crucial role in climate regulation and cultural and recreational activities. Wetland services exceed the terrestrial services in value.


Due to the rising population and overexploitation of the remaining wetlands, 64% of the world’s wetland has been degraded. Water quality trends have been harmful in recent years. Pollutants were impacting the quality of water. Some of the drivers of change in wetlands are water abstraction, construction of dams, transportation of sediments, salinization, gravel and sand harvesting, untreated sewage waste, marine and urban waste, rise in biofuels, and climate change.


External drivers such as tourism, agricultural policy and governance are also drivers of change in the wetland. Due to all these drivers, the Ramsar Convention came into being.



Ramsar convention – How it works?

The Ramsar Convention provides framework and regulations for international solidarity and cooperation, and it also provides a national action plan for the preservation of wetlands. It rules for judicious use of wetlands as they are highly dangerous. This Convention was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 so it is known as the Ramsar Convention. 90% of the parties to the United Nations are signatory to the Ramsar Convention. The primary purpose of the Convention was to safeguard the wetlands in the realm of Sustainable Development Goals.


The Ramsar Convention has three main pillars. Firstly, there should be wise usage of the wetlands. Any natural resource if overused becomes extinct or polluted. So is the case with wetlands. Judicious use of the wetlands is the central pillar of the Ramsar Convention. It can be achieved by public awareness and educational programmes, proper management, formulating plans and policies, and legislative support. Secondly, preparing a list of wetlands that are of international importance.


This list will be called the Ramsar List. This can be done through active management. Lastly, there should be international solidarity and oneness on transboundary wetlands, infrastructure development and wetland systems. These three pillars of the Ramsar Convention ensure sustainable and proper usage of the wetlands for the upcoming future and humanity.


The working of the Convention is systematic. The conference on Contracting Parties meets every three years to facilitate plans, policies, guidelines in order to fulfil the objectives of the Ramsar Convention. The Standing Committee represents the six Ramsar projects of the world. This committee’s fundamental function is to guide the Convention and the CoP.


The Scientific and Technical Review Panel throws light on the difficulties faced by the Convention and thus guides them. The Secretariat’s function is to manage the day-to-day affairs, prepare the Ramsar List, prepare the reports as and when needed by the Convention. The IUCN supports its functions. The Administrative Authority has its focal point on the administrative affairs of the Convention.


The National Wetland Committee takes a brief note of all the developments that are taking place in the wetlands in different states. It also briefs the CoP about the same. The Ramsar Conventions collaborates with different multilateral organizations and private and public institutions such as the UN, UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, UNECU, MAB programme, CBD, UNCCD, CMS, WHC, CITES, Wildfowl, etc. The Convention gets its funding from contracting parties and non-state actors.


The Ramsar Convention covers 108 million square km of area in total. The Convention draws the interest of the public towards the wetlands and its primordial fear. A collective pioneer effort has been started by the European Wetland Campaign, WWF, IUCN, European Economic Community, Waterfowl, MAR etc. to turn this populist approach into a joint international campaign. This led to an immediate need for wetland listing and inventory.


This Convention has led to the preparation of directories of Wetlands in Asia, Africa and Oceania. A need to classify the wetlands is crucial to prepare an effective plan and framework. The Convention evaluates the wetland sites and wetlands of international importance.


Ramsar Convention also draws some concerns such as national policy issues, identification and monitoring, research and training and awareness and education for the public. There is a need for a holistic view to deal with wetlands. The rate at which the wetland is being polluted is alarming. The stakeholder also does not fully support this Convention, and there is also insufficient political support from the states.


Wetlands have also been covered in a few international policies and agreements such as 2030 SDG, Aichi Target, Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, MEA and UNCCD. Since the Ramsar Convention was signed, the natural wetlands have decreased, and the artificial wetlands have increased simultaneously. There is a need for legal and policy arrangement to safeguard the wetlands. Nevertheless, they have played a significant role in achieving the SDGs.



Ramsar Conventions role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals

Wetlands are essential for global development, economic growth and climate change. They are also responsible for healthy adaptation and migration. The services and utility provided by the wetlands are essential in achieving sustainable development goals. These goals are the agenda to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030. It also provides a roadmap for the future.


One of the SDG is to end poverty in all forms. Wetlands build resilience. They are a clean and reliable source of water for humans, agriculture and cattle. Waza plain, one of the international Ramsar sites, provides agriculture, grazing and fishing totalling to $2.3 million. Wetlands also provide a sustainable source of fish and protein to half the world’s population. Wetlands also help in eradicating hunger, promotes food security and nutritious and healthy food.


This is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals. Wetlands provide rice, which is a staple food of half the world’s population. They also store water and soil resources for agriculture. One of the Ramsar sites, Tonle Sap lake, gives 60-80% of the protein to its inhabitants. Insects, crabs, shrimps and other seafood secures the nutritious diet of people.


Wetlands promote gender equality, and it empowers women. In Burkina Faso women play a responsible role in the collection of food and water. Their community has promoted local governance with the collective solidarity of woman. The woman also plays a crucial role in the plantation of Mangrove forest. Another SDG is the availability of water for sanitization. The world’s consumption of water is mostly drawn from wetlands. The Ramsar Convention is the custodian of safe water, like Lake Victoria, which gives potable water to 1.5 million people.


Wetlands give sustained economic growth and employment, achieving one of the Sustainable Development Goals. It provides water for agriculture and for cooling purpose, which is helpful in the manufacturing process. Wetlands provide us with sustained tourism, and it also promotes local culture and products. The tour and travels business gives 266 million job employment opportunities.


The Ramsar Convention fosters innovation, and it also helps in building cost-effective sustained infrastructure. It also makes human and city life safer, thus accomplishing one more SDG. Coral reefs, mangroves, salt marshes provide low-cost protection from floods by reducing the wave height and width. In 2012, Mangroves saved $625 million flood damage from Hurricane Sandy. Wetlands serve upstream retention basin preventing flood in the city downstream. They also hold 1/3rd of the world’s organic carbon, helping in degradation and drainage.


One of the Sustainable Development Goals is to conserve the use of ocean and marine resources. Ramsar Convention helps in reducing the over-fishing in wetlands. It also helps in coastal plains and wetlands. The Seychelles network protection safeguarded the coral reefs. Wetlands protect the terrestrial ecosystem. It provides 40% of the global renewable ecosystem service. Its safe water helps the local education system empowering the girl child education. Lastly, the Ramsar Convention works with other MEA to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.