02 February 2009

2 Feb is World Wetlands Day

"Swamps are some of the cheapest land, which is why they are almost always the first to be developed."

In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004, people realised how wetlands cushioned the full force of the waves, saving many lives. Overnight, mangrove replanting and wetland rehabilitation projects received a boost in funding and manpower.

Sadly, five years on, enthusiasm has ebbed. Wetlands' contribution to the ecology remain "undervalued", said Wetlands International Malaysia communications officer Gabriel Chong. More Malaysian media reports on World Wetlands Day.

In Singapore, World Wetlands Day is celebrated at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve with a special photo exhibition by Yangchen (thanks to Jun's alert on this on her ashira blog), and Hillgrove Secondary School will be selling their beautifully hand crafted souvenirs to raise conservation funds on 7 Feb (Sat) from 9am to 1pm at the Reserve's Visitor Centre.

Other World Wetlands Day events and news

What is World Wetlands Day 2009 about?

From the RAMSAR website
World Wetlands Day 2009
“Upstream – Downstream”
Wetlands connect us all
Our suggested theme for this year is river basins and their management. We all live in a river basin (or drainage basin, catchment, watershed, etc.), and most of the people reading this are well aware of the challenges of managing it – and particularly the challenge of making sure that the basin planners think of wetlands and not just water in their planning.

We hope that WWD this year, 2 February 2009 or thereabouts, will be an opportunity for people to look around at their own wetland and its interconnections with the environment around it – how the wetland benefits the surroundings and, of course, how activities throughout the river basin may affect their wetland.

Our suggested slogan for this year – “Upstream – Downstream” – captures this sense of how interconnected we all are within the river basin, how we can be impacted by the activities of those upstream of us and how our activities affect those downstream.

The Convention has put a great deal of energy over many years into providing guidance on managing river basins because it is such a vital issue: good site management can be quickly negated by bad decisions on managing water at the basin level. While wetland managers need to engage at all levels with the water managers, the basin level is probably the most challenging.

There is another dimension to consider, too, and that is raising the awareness of all people about their river basins. It’s not just about planners, it’s also about users, and we are all users of water in river basins. Whoever we are – farmer, fisher, factory owner, or family – our activities have an impact on the basin in which we live, so ensuring that we can bring about a better understanding of how a river basin functions, of the impact of the users – and the abusers – and the challenges of good management, is our key focus for World Wetlands Day 2009.

And it’s not just a focus for WWD – at the upcoming Ramsar COP10 in October 2008, an important draft Resolution to be debated will be the Convention’s consolidated guidance on wetlands and river basin management.

10 things we all need to know about river basins

These are intended to ‘set the scene’ for WWD event organizers, getting us all on the same page and perhaps generating some ideas of what you might decide to focus on at your WWD celebration. The thematic areas identified below will not be covered in great detail, and technical jargon will be kept to a minimum!

1. Wetlands, freshwater and river basins

An introductory section that identifies freshwater as the critical resource upon which all life depends and reminds us that it is wetlands that capture and deliver water to all of us – thus, wetlands are critical too in considering river basins.

2. What’s a river basin?

Everyone lives in a river basin – it’s part of our ecological address. But what is a basin? This section will define what we mean.

3. Upstream-downstream: we’re all connected

We can change what happens in our river basin, for better or worse, by what we do to the basin’s natural resources. Our behaviour can have an impact on the soil, water, air, plants and animals. And whatever we do will eventually have an effect downstream (and sometimes an effect upstream!).

4. Wetlands: their ecological and hydrological functions

Getting down to basics. Showcasing wetlands and their diverse roles in river basins, this section will look briefly at the hydrological and ecological functions of wetlands within river basins.

5. Who’s in control?

Who decides how your river basin is managed? This section will look at river basin management, briefly considering Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as common approaches to this management challenge.

6. Getting involved

Successful basin management depends on broad stakeholder involvement. What is a stakeholder? Are you a stakeholder? How can stakeholders play a role in managing water and wetlands?

7. Water scarcity

We hear about water scarcity all the time now. So what does it mean on different continents, in different countries. What causes it? What can we do about it? Can IRBM help?

8. Urban living impacts

Urban dwellers place heavy demands on river basins – they need water, they produce wastes, their buildings and roads create huge areas that are impervious to water, and all of this has an impact on the quality of the freshwater and the biodiversity it supports downstream.

9. Transboundary issues

Transboundary wetland systems pose special problems for managers. There are at least 261 basins that cross national boundaries – so the challenge is big, and it’s global.

10. Major threats in basins

Many activities threaten river basins. Six have been identified by some experts as the most important based on their known impact: dams and infrastructure, excessive water extraction, climate change, invasive species, over-fishing, and pollution.

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