According to estimates from Wetlands International South Asia, about 30% of India’s natural wetlands have been lost in the previous three decades due to illegal construction, unsustainable urbanization, agricultural development, and pollution.
Chennai has lost 90% of its wetlands due to uncontrolled urbanization, leaving the city with water security and environmental degradation challenges. Between 2005 and 2018, Vadodara lost 30.5 percent of its wetlands. Ineffective waste management, growing pollution, and unchecked urban development contributed to the loss of 55% of Hyderabad’s wetlands.
Mumbai lost 71% of its wetlands, Ahmedabad 57%, Bengaluru 56%, Pune 37%, and Delhi-National Capital Region 38%, owing primarily to building and pollution-induced eutrophication.
This widespread loss can be attributed to a lack of awareness and knowledge of wetlands and their ecosystem functions, in addition to urbanization needs.
In January 2021, the National Mission for Clean Ganga developed a toolbox for managing wetlands and water bodies in urban areas, as well as researching the issues raised by rising urbanization.
Later, on the last World Wetland Day, the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti started a huge scientific and community-based campaign to generate health cards and manage 10 wetlands in each of Ganga’s 50-plus districts (water resources).
In June, the Delhi Development Authority issued a public consultation on Master Plan Delhi 2041 (MPD 2041), which aims to safeguard and develop an interconnected network of ‘green and blue assets’ in Delhi in order to preserve the capital’s biodiversity and microclimate.
The strategy also included ideas for improving public access to nature. Residents and stakeholders are encouraged to participate in the protection and enhancement of green-blue assets in order to foster community ownership.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has already submitted the proposal for approval to the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and it is nearing completion.
All of these are positive developments for India’s urban planning policy.
Gearing up for urbanization: How to safeguard India’s wetlands
Because urbanization is only going to get worse, the country’s wetlands must be protected as soon as possible. Since its inception in India in 1982, the Ramsar Convention, which protects 42 wetlands, has aided some significant locations. However, conservation efforts have largely focused on the notified Ramsar areas, ignoring a number of additional important urban wetlands.
The Cities4Forests global movement, which works directly with cities all over the world to connect them to forests, emphasizes the importance of wetlands and their various benefits in helping cities resist climate change and maintain biodiversity.
Wetlands provide a wide range of vital resources and ecosystem services, including food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood mitigation, storm protection, erosion management, carbon storage, and climate regulation, among others.
Ways to Improve Urban Wetland Management in India
The current urgent need is to incorporate wetlands ecological services and biodiversity into our development plans and urban planning procedures, including climate change mitigation.
Wetlands provide numerous advantages and services that are critical to achieving the ambitious agenda of developing resilient cities to fulfil our sustainable development goals while allowing for further development and poverty eradication. Mega urban plans such as the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation must include features of wetlands management that are sustainable. Due to a policy vacuum, cities are unable to meet water demand. There is no well-defined ‘National Urban Water Policy’ to govern urban water management.
Damming and water abstraction have a significant influence on wetlands: the Keoladeo Ghana Sanctuary, Loktak Lake, Chilika Lake, and Vembanad Kole are all badly impacted by dams that affect water and silt flows. More scientific data, images, maps, and other relevant tools are also needed to understand the state of wetlands.
From 2006 to 2011, the Indian Space Research Organisation used remote sensing satellites to scan over two lakh wetlands in India for the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment. The states, on the other hand, have made little effort in designating wetlands.
There is also a need for more stringent regulation enforcement. Because regulatory authorities like the Central Wetland Regulatory Authority only have advisory powers, the National Plan for the Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems and the Wetlands Conservation and Management Rules, 2017 (revised in 2020), have had limited influence.
Furthermore, existing rules utterly disregard the involvement of local populations in the governance and monitoring of wetlands. According to Ramveer Tanwar, who regenerated over 20 ponds and lakes in and around Noida, awareness is the first step toward protection. Tanwar’s team begins with awareness campaigns in chosen locations, encouraging residents to join with their time and money, while raising the remaining funds from private firms (costs vary between Rs 3-5 lakh per acre of wetland area).
They employed a five-step wetland restoration method. Hyacinth and rubbish are removed from the water first. The water body is then separated into sections based on its size, with water being drained from each section. They let the bottom dry fully before excavating it if necessary.
A path for plants is built around the region, and then water is reintroduced, rejuvenating the waterbody.
Scalability and replicability can also be investigated in a number of other small-scale undertakings.
Narayan Choudhary’s Talab Bachao Abhiyan has mobilised communities in the Mithilanchal region (north Bihar) throughout the years. The campaign raised awareness about pond encroachment and pollution and urged the government to act.
Since 2017, Shweta Hule’s ‘Swamini’ self-help group of ten women has organised a’mangrove safari’ for tourists in Sindhudurg’s Mandavi creek. This has been recognised as a paradigm for ecotourism-based community conservation.
The state forest department is working to replicate their model in other regions of Maharashtra’s coastal region.
A strong policy can be established to alter the country’s wetlands conditions based on local experiences and skills. Plans like MPD 2041, which focus on water bodies and the land surrounding them, are the urban planning plans of the future. The ‘green-blue policy,’ in which water bodies and land are interdependent and grow with each other while providing environmental and social advantages, is referred as such.
However, the DDA seeks different stakeholders for this project, including the Delhi Jal Board, the flood and irrigation department, and municipal corporations. This will be a difficult undertaking, especially as it has no supervisory authority over these bodies.
ISRO’s Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad and ICAR’s Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR-CMFRI) in Kochi will work together to locate and demarcate wetlands smaller than 2.25 hectares along India’s coastline. To create resilience against the impact of climate change, they will conserve water bodies through “coastal livelihood programmes.”
The toolkit’s creation will also assist urban local governments, city administrators, urban planners, and other stakeholders to handle water management concerns by taking comprehensive and integrated action on the ground.
Such smart and new approaches, as well as more space for people to participate in the management and decision-making of their wetlands, are critical for India to construct a climate resilient future.
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