Wetlands: 24 of India’s 80 Ramsar sites are in Ganga basin

Wetlands are one of the most important ecological elements

Wetlands Ganga basin Sarus cranes at the Dhanauri wetlands | Sanjay Ahlawat

Nearly one-third of India’s wetlands are in the Ganga basin covering about 40 percent of the total area designated as Ramsar sites in the country, the government data reveals. More than 70 percent of Ramsar sites in the Ganga basin were added after 2014, the data further reveals, indicating the importance accorded to the Hindi heartland states in terms of protecting the region’s water bodies.

Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of Ramsar sites (10) in the basin. Ganga flows through the states of Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. However, the catchment area also includes Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“Ganga basin is very rich in wetlands and accounts for more than a quarter of freshwater resources. Over 40 percent of the country’s GDP is generated in this region. Therefore, Ganga basin is very important from a lot of perspectives,” said Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, former director general, National Mission for Clean Ganga.

Mishra added that wetlands are one of the most important ecological elements as they connect land and water. “They are very valuable in providing ecosystem services such as improved water quality, water balance, livelihood, protection of flora and fauna etc.,” said Mishra. This reflects in this year’s theme – Wetlands and Human Well Being – that spotlights the interconnectedness between wetlands and human beings. The theme, as Mishra pointed out, also underscores how all aspects of human well-being are tied to the health of the world’s wetlands.

India has 19 types of wetlands, including mangroves (sunderbans), ponds, marshes, and high-altitude lakes. With addition of 5 new sites on January 29th this year under the ‘Convention on Wetlands’ also known as the Ramsar Convention that designates the Ramsar sites, the total tally in the country has gone up to 80. Out of these, 24 are in the Ganga basin, as per the environment ministry data. Further, out of 24 in the Ganga basin, 17 were included in the Ramsar list after 2014.

“Ganga basin is heavily populated and therefore it becomes all the important to protect wetlands in the area. Wetlands are prone to encroachments and should be conserved. That is the reason we prepared a whole chapter on wetlands when clean Ganga mission was being planned and it is the result of our efforts that so many of these water bodies were added to the list of Ramsar sites,” said Mishra.

“Out of the total wetland covered area of around 14 lakh hectare, over 5.25 lakh falls in the Ganga basin making it extremely beneficial for the local population from the point of view of water quality, groundwater recharge, livelihood, biodiversity protection etc.,” says Arvind Kumar, a Gram Pradhan in Uttarakhand, who closely works for the preservation of biodiversity in Ganga.

Outside the Ganga basin, Tamil Nadu, after last week’s inclusion, has the maximum number of Ramsar sites (16). The Ramsar Convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty outlining the framework for cooperation for the conservation of wetlands.

According to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are “areas of marsh, fen, peatland, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water.”

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