Unusually, this year’s World Water Day comes in a climate of fear and anxiety, caused by the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that has swept the globe and claimed so many lives. However, the magnitude of this global crisis, which may hopefully require only a few months to confront and overcome, should not make us forget that pollution and scarcity of water resources, together with climate change, are among the most serious crises that threaten the future of mankind, and foreshadow effects that may well be more deadly than the COVID-19 itself.
This year, World Water Day, on 22 March2020, is about water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. The campaign shows how our use of water can help reduce floods, droughts, scarcity and pollution, and can help fight climate change itself. By adapting to the effects of climate change on water, we will protect health and save lives. And, by using water more efficiently, we will reduce greenhouse gases. We cannot afford to wait. Everyone has a role to play.
The earth cracks
with blistering heat,
rivers dry and the crops wilt;
if water is consumed
without a thought,
we all shall bear the brunt of drought –
Life is water, water is life
Conserve water before shortage is rife..
© Somali K Chakrabarti
Nature-based solutions for water and climate change
Wetlands occur where water meets land . . . and where water exists, life thrives!
Wetlands in the Mediterranean Basin provide many and varied benefits of great significance to the well-being to local human populations. Healthy wetlands are sources of fresh water. In increasingly dry regions such as the Mediterranean, wetlands are particularly crucial for the sustainable management of water resources, in terms of both quality and quantity. They help to provide and purify the water upon which local populations depend, for drinking, for industry, for energy production, and for irrigated agriculture.
Mediterranean wetlands, particularly coastal ones, play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. When they are well managed, they help to alleviate extreme weather events through buffering floods and coastal storm surges and by providing water during drought periods.
Unfortunately, the human “ecological footprint” in the Mediterranean Basin is now nearly twice as large as the world average, with particularly high pressure on water resources, according to the Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook 2(MWO2), published by the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory.
Human activities such as the conversion of natural ecosystems, including wetlands, to other land uses such as agriculture, urban development, and water supply, are progressively reducing the value of the benefits they provide.
As wetlands generally act as carbon sinks, their drainage and destruction, or extraction of their water, leads to the release of large amounts of stored carbon back into the atmosphere. This carbon, released in the form of greenhouse gases CO2 and CH4 (methane), contributes to global warming.
Key messages for decision makers
The Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook highlights the situation in the Mediterranean region and provides some alarming facts related to water and wetlands:
- 1/3 of the Mediterranean countries are undergoing very heavy water stress, which is particularly serious in the Middle East and Northeast Africa;
- Most rivers have experienced a very significant reduction in flow (-25 to -75%);
- Agriculture is the main contributor to the increase in water withdrawals in the Mediterranean basin, with 2/3 of the total ; and
- The flood control capacity of wetlands has decreased by 20% in some Mediterranean countries.
The Outlook also addressed some key messages related to water and climate change especially for decision makers. Human well-being is being compromised through the loss of the multiple benefits provided by wetlands, including by:
- Increasing the risk of flooding of homes and infrastructure;
- Increasing the risk of exposure to water shortages and drought;
- Increasing health risks and treatment costs as a result of degrading water quality;
- Undermining attempts to create a sustainable future and to deliver on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and
- Reducing mitigations of the impacts of climate change, which is expected to make this situation worse for future generations.
In the light of these threats, positive responses for wetlands can make a difference and benefit the well-being of future generations of people and wildlife. Responses can include:
- Encouraging increased public awareness of the importance of wetlands, as well as stakeholder participation in their management, for maintaining human well-being;
- Strengthening national legal and policy arrangements to conserve all wetlands; and
- Developing and implementing adaptation strategies for coastal and inland wetlands to minimize the impacts of climate change.
For more information about wetlands’ status and trends, download the report “Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook 2: Solutions for sustainable Mediterranean wetlands (MWO2)” here.
Coastal and unprotected wetlands are expected to be most severely impacted by climate change, but conserving and restoring wetlands is a very effective way to mitigate climate change impacts for people and water ressources.
Website of World Water Day: https://www.worldwaterday.org/
Website of the “Off Your Map” campaign on coastal wetlands: http://offyourmap.org/