Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,02/02/2015

By Dr Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

World Wetlands Day, 2 February, celebrated around the world, came out of a desire to help more people learn about these incredible ecosystems and how we can help protect them. Led by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, that now includes 168 contracting parties, the overarching goal of World Wetlands Day is awareness and education, helping people to understand what constitutes a wetland and their vital role in our lives.

Most importantly, wetlands are the source of our daily water. They are also home to over 100,000 freshwater species and essential to bird life, breeding and migration.

 IUCN Bangladesh

Fishing season in the Tanguar Haor wetlands of Bangladesh. Photo: IUCN Bangladesh

Wetlands play other crucial roles too:

Wetlands feed humanity: rice, grown in wetland paddies, is the staple diet of nearly three billion people. The average human consumes 19 kilogrammes of fish each year. And most of the fish sold breed and raise their young in coastal waters and estuaries. Moreover, 70% of all fresh water extracted globally is used for crop irrigation.

Wetlands purify and filter harmful waste from water, helping to absorb harmful fertilizers and pesticides, as well as heavy metals and toxins from industry. As an example, the Nakivubo Swamp in Kampala, Uganda, filters sewage and industrial effluents for free; a treatment plant to do the same job would cost US$ 2 million per year.

Wetlands act as nature’s shock absorbers: peatlands and wet grasslands in river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools that ease any flooding in rivers. The same storage capacity will also safeguard against the impact of drought.

Wetlands provide sustainable

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Submitted by guest blogger on Sun,02/01/2015

World Wetlands Day, celebrated 2 February, is an opportunity to highlight some of the many examples of how conserving natural resources can reap tangible benefits for people. Here we revisit a story from journalist Wayne Arnold, writing for IUCN’s Water Programme, describing how changing the way wetlands are managed in southern Laos improved the nutrition of local villagers.

They live in a forested swamp that is submerged by floodwaters for part of the year, eking out an existence on the fish they catch and whatever they can grow or gather. Malaria and malnutrition are rife. To say that the wetland communities of Attapeu province in southernmost Laos are poor would seem an understatement.

 C. Hicks, IUCN Lao PDR

Fishing on Lao wetland. Photo: C. Hicks, IUCN Lao PDR

For government officials back in the capital, the solution to Attapeu’s problems was much the same as their approach for the rest of their impoverished nation: clear the land, fill the swamps and enable the poor to grow and sell rice. But overturning the natural environment in favour of a cash crop like rice can disrupt traditional livelihoods and leave rural communities worse off than they were before.

“People think if they have rice, they’re well off,” said Mark Dubois, a British marine biologist who spent almost three years working on a study of Attapeu’s wetland communities for the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP). “But rice doesn’t provide for all the needs that people have nutritionally. It’s not a panacea.”

On the contrary, the flooded forest offers a rich provender if it isn’t overexploited. Yet governments in Laos and elsewhere often tend to overlook the importance of aquatic resources to the rural poor. To

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