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Water and food security threatened by escalating wetland loss


The world’s wetlands such as rivers, mangroves, deltas and lakes are degrading faster than any other ecosystem type. Increasingly many are reaching the critical stage where damage will be irreversible which has serious repercussions for the water and food security of poor people. This is revealed in the in-depth review on inland waters (wetlands) which is being discussed at the technical meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which kicked off Monday in Nairobi. 

Wetlands International calls for rapid action by the CBD to reduce the disastrous consequences for the world’s poorest communities.

Globally we face increasing water and food scarcity. Wetlands are the natural infrastructure that provides these resources for free. However, wetlands need water. They are highly sensitive to the impacts of other water users such as agriculture, industry and domestic supply. All indicators suggest that the use of natural water resources is increasing unsustainable, affecting the quantity and quality available for wetlands. With many millions of poor people using wetlands for food and water security this gives huge cause for concern. Wetlands International calls for the Contracting Parties under the Convention to prioritise safeguarding and restoring wetlands and their values as an integral part of water resource planning and management.

Photo: Dead hippo in Lake Naivasha, Kenya. By Oliver Nasirwa (click to enlarge)

Climate change and water

Furthermore the effects of climate change will be mediated through water. For instance, salt water intrusion from increased storms and sea level rise and increased droughts due to changing weather patterns will change freshwater availability making careful planning and management of freshwater resources an even more pressing issue. The improved management of wetland ecosystems and their water resources should also be central in any CBD recommendation on strategies for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Address main drivers of wetland loss

"The only way to stop the accelerating and continuing loss of wetlands and the consequent impacts on water supplies and livelihoods is to address the main drivers of wetland loss. The CBD is a crucial platform to urge countries to take action", says Kemi Seesink, senior policy officer at Wetlands International. These drivers include land conversion such as for the production of biofuels by draining peatlands in Indonesia (watch video), excessive diversion of water from rivers for agriculture and disregard for the water needs of wetlands.

Inner Niger Delta, Mali

The Inner Niger Delta in Mali, a wetland that floods annually to cover an area of 20-30.000 km2 gives a striking example of the issues. Over 1 million people live in and around the wetland due to its capacity to support fisheries, livestock and rice production. There are plans to divert water upstream of the delta by more than double the current amounts in the next ten years, for irrigated agriculture and hydropower.

Photo: Woman planting an acacia tree in Inner Niger Delta, Mali. By Sander Carpay (click to enlarge)

The consequent reduction in downstream flows to the delta  would drastically undermine its capacity to support livelihoods, resulting in a net negative result for food security in the Upper Niger Basin. If climate change scenarios predicting drier and hotter conditions are factored in, then there will be very high risks of drought related disasters and forced migrations in this already fragile region.

Wetlands International will actively participate in the Strategic Plan discussions from 24-28 May in Nairobi. Download our submissions to the CBD SBSTTA and Strategic Plan at


For more information:

Wetlands International, Susanna Tol

Tel: +31 318-660933 / Email: / Web: 

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