Wetlands and Livelihoods: Nurturing life, sustaining communities

Wetlands, often referred to as the Earth’s kidneys, play a crucial role in supporting life and livelihoods. These diverse ecosystems encompass marshes, swamps, bogs, and more, contributing significantly to the well-being of over 1 billion people worldwide. Let’s delve into the intricate link between healthy wetlands and human livelihoods, shedding light on the multifaceted benefits these ecosystems offer.


Fishing and aquaculture:

More than 660 million people worldwide depend on fishing and aquaculture for their livelihoods. Healthy wetlands serve as nurseries and breeding grounds for various fish species, supporting not only the livelihoods of fishermen but also ensuring a steady supply of fish for global consumption.


Fishermen in the Buna River, Albania. Photo : © MedWet / C.Amico


Rice farming

Playing a crucial role in rice farming, wetlands significantly contribute to the livelihoods of nearly 1 billion households across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, particularly those of small-scale farmers. Serving as fertile grounds, wetlands create optimal conditions for small-scale rice cultivation, guaranteeing a sustainable source of both income and food for communities globally. Approximately 80% of the world’s rice is estimated to be produced by small-scale farmers, with the majority consumed locally.


Rice field in Albufera, Valencia. Photo: © Marcela Escandell (flickr)

Food provision

In addition to cultivating rice, wetlands play a vital role in supporting food-related livelihoods. They offer fertile farming grounds, ensuring a stable water supply for crops. Communities rely on wetlands for diverse food production, promoting local consumption and trade. The rich resources of wetland ecosystems also support traditional culinary practices, underscoring their essential role in providing sustenance and economic well-being.


The Ghar El Melh lagoon, Tunisia. Photo: © MedWet / C.Amico


Tourism and recreation:

Wetlands offer unique landscapes and biodiversity, attracting visitors and creating employment opportunities for local communities engaged in hospitality and related services. It is estimated that half of the world’s international tourists seek relaxation in wetland areas, supporting 266 million jobs in the travel and tourism sectors. 


A visitor to the coastal wetlands of Oristano (Sardinia, Italy). Photo : © MedWet / C.Amico


Indigenous livelihoods:

Indigenous communities find economic sustenance in wetlands through time-honored practices like gathering and processing medicinal plants, extracting dyes, harvesting fruits, and utilizing reeds and grasses. Beyond their economic significance, these activities serve a dual purpose by not only bolstering the financial health of these communities but also acting as custodians of their rich cultural heritage.

Iraq Marshes. Photo : ©Jassim Al-Asadi


Water supply for agriculture:

A reliable water supply is essential for farmers and herders, sustaining both livestock grazing and agriculture. Wetlands, functioning as natural reservoirs, play a pivotal role in ensuring a consistent and stable water source for farming activities, thereby bolstering the foundations of rural livelihoods. However, it is imperative to address the growing concern of over-extraction of water from wetlands, emphasizing the critical need for effective control measures to preserve these vital ecosystems.



Wetlands are integral to transportation in numerous regions, where rivers and inland waterways act as vital routes for moving goods and people. This direct connection to transportation not only supports jobs related to shipping and trade but also boosts economic activities dependent on efficient transport systems.


Despite the multitude of benefits wetlands offer, they regrettably face imminent danger and are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1970, the Mediterranean region has lost 50% of its natural wetlands. This jeopardizes biodiversity and exacerbates poverty. In addition, as these invaluable ecosystems vanish, the resources and services they offer dwindle, adversely affecting the communities dependent on them. Urgency is emphasized by the Sustainable Development Goals to implement effective measures for the protection and restoration of crucial ecosystems like wetlands, aiming to alleviate poverty and foster sustainable development. Actions should include establishing and enforcing conservation policies, supporting sustainable land-use practices, and engaging local communities in wetland restoration efforts. 

Recognizing the indispensable link between wetlands and human livelihoods, safeguarding these ecosystems becomes a tangible step towards securing a sustainable future for communities and the planet.


Note: The figures referenced in this article are sourced from the Ramsar Convention’s infographic: https://medwet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/WWD2024_Infographics_WETLANDS-AND-LIVELIHOODS.pdf