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Insights into Editorial: Developing urban wetlands is only way to avert water crisis

Developing_urban

 

Introduction:

According to a recent WWF Risk Filter analysis, 100 cities globally will be facing ‘severe water scarcity’ by 2050.

These cities are home to around 350 million people. Climate change and rising population—the total population of these cities could increase from 17% in 2020 to around 51% by 2050—have been cited as underlying factors.

Therefore, countries need to make the spread of urbanisation more even apart from undertaking urgent climate action.

Two Indian cities—Jaipur (45) and Indore (75)—feature in the list. Apart from these two, 28 other Indian cities are likely to face ‘increasing water risks in the next few decades’, including Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Delhi and Vishakapatnam.

Importance of Wetlands:

  1. Wetlands provide important ecological services that contribute to watershed functions, most notably in pollutant removal, flood attenuation, groundwater recharge and discharge, shoreline protection, and wildlife habitat.
  2. The benefit of wetland ecological services generally increases as total wetland cover increases in a watershed.
  3. Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems that provide the world with nearly two-thirds of its fish harvest.
  4. Wetlands play an integral role in the ecology of the watershed. The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects.
  5. Wetlands’ microbes, plants and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen and sulphur.
  6. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
  7. Wetlands function as natural barriers that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater and flood waters.
  8. Wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters lowering flood heights and reduces soil erosion.
  9. Wetlands are critical to human and planet life. More than one billion people depend on them for a living and 40% of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands.
  10. Numerous researchers have quantified the economic benefits provided by wetlands in a watershed.
  11. When wetlands are lost or degraded by land development, these services must often be replaced by costly water treatment and flood control infrastructure.
  12. Given the many watershed services wetlands provide, wetland conservation and restoration should be an integral part of a comprehensive local watershed management strategy.

India’s policies for ‘Urban Lakes’:

Threats to these Lakes: These lake ecosystems are presently endangered due to anthropogenic disturbances caused by Urbanisation as they have been heavily degraded due to pollution from disposal of untreated local sewage or due to encroachment, resulting in shrunken lakes.

Why Urban Lakes still needs more attention?

  1. Even after 26 years of pollution abatement works, only ten per cent of waste water generated in the country is treated.
  2. The rest collects as cess pools or is discharged into the 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred other rivers.
  3. It is quite clear that the overall status of quality of water in rivers, lakes and its links to groundwater has not been adequately addressed.
  4. Out of the 43 Indian guidelines passed by the central and state government, 41 per cent of those talk about conservation and restoration of waterbodies but only 10 per cent exactly describe the conservative measure.
  5. Only 22 per cent of the guidelines are on subjects related to policies to be adopted by state government, urban local bodies etc.
  6. This clearly identifies the missing links and marks the future prospects that India should adopt for the preparation of better and sustainable lake management plans.

Since a lake is a reflection of its catchment area, it is essential to first understand the significant changes or trends concerning the primary land uses within the catchment area / watershed draining into the lake.

There is no approach which defines the planning process for preparation of short, medium and long-term action plans for lake rejuvenation, considering its watershed area.

Way Forward:

  1. Developing urban wetlands and watershed are crucial to containing the crisis. The Smart Cities initiative’s framework for water management also must be implemented on a war footing.
  2. To counter unplanned urbanization and a growing population, management of wetlands has to be an integrated approach in terms of planning, execution and monitoring.
  3. Effective collaborations among academicians and professionals, including ecologists, watershed management specialists, planners and decision makers for overall management of wetlands.
  4. Spreading awareness by initiating awareness programs about the importance of wetlands and constant monitoring of wetlands for their water quality would provide vital inputs to safeguard the wetlands from further deterioration.

It is essential to have a document with clear understanding of the lake’s watershed area, with specific goals, objectives, producing time-bound action plans.

Conclusion:

In order to operationalise water management for a water-secure future, public funding for sustainable economic growth is the need of the hour.

From cutting greenhouse gas emissions to reclaiming waste ware, cities must have a multi-pronged response.

Given how India neither has created storage capacity commensurate to the precipitation it receives nor has moved meaningfully on wastewater reclamation, there is a lot of potential in these two areas in terms of bolstering water-security.

Beyond that, the country needs to implement rainwater harvesting, micro-irrigation, etc, while transitioning away from water-guzzling crops and pricing water correctly to discourage wastage.

Without a holistic outlook on water, the country suffers—research shows a clear link between water-stress and conflict.