2 February, World Wetlands Day. This year’s theme ‘Upstream-Downstream’ highlights how the world’s wetlands are connected to millions of people whose livelihoods, safety and security depend on them for water supply and their capacity to help regulate floods. Climate change will considerably magnify the problems that ongoing degradation of these river basins will bring to nature and people. Increasing the resilience of these wetlands is therefore a fundamental issue that must be part of climate change adaptation strategies.
Wetlands International urges governments, development organizations and finance institutions to integrate wetland conservation and restoration into climate change adaptation and development strategies to maintain and enhance the resilience of these ecosystems and millions of people.
Water availability stress in arid regions
The Niger River Basin stretches from the highlands of Guinea to the Niger Delta links 10 countries together and is an extremely valuable wetland and water resource in the Sahelian zone. Climate change worsens the enormous stress of limited water availability to this arid region. In recent years unprecedented decline in rainfall has already been experienced in the Sahel; it is expected to decline by a further 20% over the next 100 years. Coping with climate change demands another approach to water use. Analysis by Wetlands International and partner organizations suggests that upstream dams for hydropower and irrigation will worsen the impacts of climate change. The combination of both impacts is likely to reduce river flow to the immense downstream Inner Niger Delta to the point where current downstream fishery, cattle-grazing and agricultural activities supporting more than 1million people and the provision of wintering areas for the millions of waterbirds will be severely affected. Alternative approaches to power generation and more effective irrigation will become even more crucial to maintain the natural system’s resilience.
Reduced water storage in highland mountain areas
Also in other regions of the world it is evident how climate change is affecting entire River Basin systems, such as in the Himalayas. Lakes, floodplains and high altitude peatlands regulate river water flows and ensure water supply for the region by slowly releasing the stored water. Climate change alters rainfall patterns and accelerates glacial melt due to rising temperatures. With the loss of glaciers, the region looses a precious fresh water stock and a constant flow of meltwater. Reclamation of lakes, overgrazing, drainage and mining of high altitude peatlands reduces the water storage capacity of these wetlands. This can contribute to more intense floods after extreme rainfall and will worsen droughts after prolonged periods without precipitation. Wetland conservation and restoration is crucial for the 1,5 billion people living in downstream densely populated areas in India, China or Bangladesh. A similar story applies for the wetlands in the Andes or other mountain areas.
World Wetlands Day
World Wetland Day is celebrated every year on 2 February with events held world wide to highlight values and challenges of wetlands. World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Iran, 1971) which is signed by 158 countries for the conservation and wise use of wetlands of international importance through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation. On this day, we ask for attention on the increasing importance of wetlands to provide us with sufficient fresh water and to prevent floods.
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