For those of us living in the developed world, imagine the shock of waking up one morning to discover that there is no water coming out of our taps. The reality is that access to improved drinking-water sources is already a daily issue for billions of people worldwide; today, water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the people on our planet.
Today’s World Water Day message is thought-provoking: “The World is thirsty because we are hungry” and many of our actions, such as the management of irrigation systems and domestic water supply, need to be improved to reduce water loss. Take a minute to think of all the water used to produce the food we eat. Our world is thirsty and a key consequence of the water crisis is to threaten our food security, which relies on fresh, clean water.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has long noted the high dependence of local communities on wetland resources, particularly in developing countries and notably in terms of small-scale subsistence agriculture, domestic water supply, and other uses that may contribute directly to poverty alleviation. It has therefore been part of Ramsar’s mission to increase awareness of the connection between wetlands and water use, demonstrating the opportunities and constraints for using wetlands to address specific water management issues such as water storage, flood regulation, improving water quality and helping to create sustainable livelihoods through wise use.
Last week I was in Marseille to attend the World Water Forum and it was encouraging to share views and to realise that there is an increasing recognition of the values of healthy freshwater wetlands. Yet there is still a growing need to recognise that healthy inland water ecosystems provide reliable, clean water for direct human uses but also for keeping coastal areas healthy. Food security is not only dependent on healthy freshwater wetlands but also on healthy marine and coastal wetlands such as mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds – all of which play crucial roles in ensuring an enduring supply of marine products such as fish, shellfish, algae, etc., that form an integral part of our diet. These marine and coastal ecosystems are connected to inland waters and there is a need to protect the marine environment by addressing the connectivity between terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal and marine ecosystems.
The importance of wetlands for the environment and for human livelihoods has traditionally been underrated by policy- and decision-makers because of the difficulty of assigning financial values to a wetland ecosystem’s benefits, goods and services. Of some help for wetlands in this area, the Ramsar Secretariat will be working with the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative in the coming month to raise awareness of the global economic benefits of biodiversity and to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. TEEB and Ramsar will prepare a specific report on the economics of water and wetlands, for launch later this year.
On this World Water Day, the Ramsar Secretariat reaffirms its commitment to the conservation and wise use of wetlands as a contribution to securing the quantity and quality of fresh water that is required to sustain human well-being.