Wetlands are an important component of the ecosystem. Wetlands generally include tidal flats, swamps, marshes, bogs, fens, lakes, rivers, wet grasslands, wet peat lands, estuaries, deltas, paddy fields, reservoirs, salt pans and other moisture-laced bodies. Wetlands cover about six per cent of the land area of the world. In Nepal, wetlands cover around five per cent of the land area. Wetlands are important from various standpoints, from helping people in earning livelihoods to preserving and maintaining the environment. Over three billion people of the world depend on wetlands for their livelihoods. Wetlands not only meet their water requirements but also their food requirements. Wetlands help retain nutrients, support the food web and maintain biodiversity. Further, these wetlands provide fibre, fuel, fodder, medicinal plants and water for irrigation and industrial purposes, besides giving shelter to various fauna and flora. Aquatic life is not possible without wetlands.
Recreational activity The main functions of wetlands are water filtration, water storage, biological productivity and provision of habitats for plants and animals. Wetlands perpetuate the water cycle, which is important in sustaining the ecosystem. Biological productivity would denote the ability to produce biomass and the development of alternative sources of energy. By providing shelter to various types of plants, animals and birds, wetlands not only preserve such biota but also provide a recreation ground for people. People can enjoy such recreational activities as bird watching, hunting, fishing and wildlife observation. These activities can help in boosting eco-tourism. From an environmental point of view, the importance of wetlands can hardly be overstretched. Wetlands are considered carbon dioxide sinks and climate stabilisers as they control soil erosion, reduce the effects of floods, landslides and drought and regulate the hydrological cycle. Wetlands are aptly regarded as kidneys of landscapes; they receive human and natural wastes downstream, maintain hydrological and chemical cycles, depollute polluted rivers and help in recharging groundwater aquifers. Further, wetlands are repositories of biological, chemical and genetic materials. Nepal has given importance to wetlands. There are wetlands in the mountains, hills and the Terai. Nepal joined the Ramsar Convention in 1971, ratified it in 1988 and registered Koshi Tappu as the country's first Ramsar site. Now there are nine Ramsar sites in the country: Koshi Tappu in Sunsari; Beeshazari and associated lakes in Chitwan; Ghodaghodi lake area in Kailali; Jagadishpur reservoir in Kapilvastu; Gokyo and associated lakes in Solukhumbu; Gosaikund and associated lakes in Rasuwa; Phoksundo lake in Dolpa; Rara lake in Mugu and Mai Pokhari in Ilam. There are around 20 freshwater wetlands in the country but only nine have managed to make it to the Ramsar site list. Nepal has adopted several policies related to the preservation of wetlands. The National Conservation Strategy (1988) stresses the need for the sustainable use of land and natural resources. The Master Plan for the Forestry Sector (1989) stresses the need for managing and harnessing land and forest resources and preserving forests, soil, water, biota, etc. by involving local people in these activities. The Nepal Environment Policy and Action Plan (1993) accentuate the need for identifying and protecting wetlands. Under the Nepal Environment Policy and Action Plan II (1998), 54 environmental projects related to forestry and wetland management were identified. The Forestry Sector Policy (2000) recognises soil, water, flora and fauna as main elements of forestry. But the policy is silent on the preservation of wetlands. However, the National Wetlands Policy 2003 is broad-based. It aims at involving locals, communities and community-based organisations in the preservation and management of wetlands, in the conservation of biodiversity and in the prudent use of wetland resources. There is not even an iota of doubt that wetlands should be preserved for the common good. Wetlands are important from economic, social and cultural points of view. As the wetlands sustain ecosystems and contribute to life-support systems, they are a means for enabling and sustaining human survival. If properly managed, wetlands can be a tool for alleviating poverty as well as they provide marginalised people with a means of livelihoods. Wetlands are not, however, without problems and challenges, both natural and anthropogenic. Infestation of wetlands with exogenous species, overgrasing, overfishing, hunting, pollution, excessive use of agrochemicals, discharge of industrial effluents into water bodies like streams and rivers, encroachment of wetlands for settlement and other purposes, over-exploitation of wetland resources and the like are threats to the preservation of wetlands. The Phewalake in Pokhara is being encroached upon by unscrupulous people. In the Kathmandu Valley, there are many instances wherein ponds are encroached upon to build houses, buildings or hotels.
Harsher punishment The government should strictly enforce the relevant laws. If needed, such laws should be amended with harsher punishment for those who encroach upon any wetland or over-exploit wetland resources for personal interests without considering the dire effects such an act may bring on in the future. Weak laws are often responsible for being unable to take action on the preservation of wetlands. Besides, the government should explore potential wetlands across the country and get them listed in the Ramsar site list. As far as the preservation of wetlands is concerned, local communities should be encouraged to get involved in such activities. The preservation of wetlands is closely associated with human survival, which is not a small deal. It should be kept in mind that wetlands are not wastelands. So it is the need of the hour to preserve wetlands so as to reap broad benefits ranging from those associated with livelihoods to those associated with the environment and ecosystems.