World Wetlands Day: Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk

On February 2nd the world celebrates it’s wetlands – complex ecosystems that provide a wide variety of services and benefits for people and  nature.  Yet wetlands are in danger; threatened with drainage for agriculture, degradation, pollution, and destruction at an alarming pace. A key role of wetlands is in reducing the effects of disasters by absorbing excess water from floods and coastal storm surges, and in storing water during droughts.

‘Wetlands and disaster risk reduction’ is the theme of World Wetlands Day 2017 (WWD17). Spearheaded by the Ramsar Convention, WWD17 will focus on how wetlands can be protected, restored, and managed effectively to help absorb the shocks of natural disasters.  Wetlands can help strengthen people and nature’s resilience to disaster impacts.

Data published in 2014 show that as much as 87% of natural wetland area has been lost since 1700, and 64% since 1900. Fully 80% of rivers in Asia were rated by the Asian Development Bank in 2013 as having poor health because of pollution and dams affecting river flows, sediment and nutrients. In the United States, some 750,000 km of rivers are classed as degraded – representing damaged waterways that would stretch 19 times around the planet.

As a result of this, between 1997 and 2011 it is estimated that we have lost many benefits that wetlands provide, from water capture and storage and filtration, the regulation of flood flows and food production.  Estimates put the value of these lost services at $2.7 trillion/yr for swamps and floodplains, and $7.2 trillion/yr for tidal marshes and mangroves.  Nothing has managed to stem this tragic loss of wetlands so far.  Much is at stake.

The frequency of disasters worldwide has more than doubled in just 35 years. Disasters are a major setback to development, resulting in loss of lives, livelihoods, critical assets, and disruption of services. UN Water estimates that 90% of all natural hazards are water-related. How can we protect wetlands for the many services they provide, and make the most of their natural ability to reduce the impact of flood and droughts?

A recently published IUCN report ‘Collaboration for Resilience: How Collaboration among Business, Government, and NGOs could the the Key to Living with Turbulence and Change in the 21st Century‘ laid out key principles for improving people and nature’s resilience to extreme events.

Key recommendations presented in this report include:

·        intensify learning across sectors and promote leadership on resilience;

·        develop better metrics and data for assessing and monitoring resilience;

·        experiment with building resilience in an incubator network;

·        start to actively broker partnerships and financing for resilience projects.

IUCN and the Ramsar Convention have a longstanding collaboration on the wise use of wetlands, in addition to hosting the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention, IUCN has collaborated with the Ramsar Convention in many ways, such as supporting countries accession to the Convention, scientific assistance in the designation of Ramsar sites, providing help at site level management, and supporting the capactiy to link local communities with government authorities to ensure the conservation of wetlands. This report ‘IUCN-Ramsar Collaboration: Supporting the Wise Use of Wetlands‘, highlights cases and examples of IUCN’s recent work in support of the Ramsar Convention.

A high-level roundtable entitled ‘Healthy Wetlands, Resilient Communities’ will take place in Geneva on 2 February (more information here). Worldwide events will be taking place to celebrate wetlands, including wetlands clean-ups, conferences, photo competitions etc.

Please see here to find, or create, an event:

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