NEW DELHI: More than 100 wetlands, essential for combating land degradation, have been identified in India and will be restored in the next five years, the Ministry of Environment said on Thursday.
Speaking at the 14th session of the Conference of Parties to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (COP 14), Manju Pandey, Joint Secretary, Environment Ministry, said the role of wetlands is very important in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG).
"Wetlands are finally being given due importance. Their role has now been realised. Under the government's scheme of 'har ghar main jal' (water in every house), we need to focus not only on bringing water to households but also get to the source and conserve it.
"We have identified 100 wetlands across the country which are under pollution stress, tourism pressure. We have increased this number to 130 after the last meeting and will keep updating the number.
We are monitoring closely as we plan to restore them in the next five years in a timely manner," Pandey said.
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A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally and it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.
She said states have been asked to prepare integrated management plan indicating "where exactly the wetland is, what are its characteristics".
"We are mostly unaware of the size and location of the wetlands. So we have asked the states to prepare documents in this regard so that we can work for wetlands in the next five years.
"Most of the villages have small ponds, wetlands which need to be protected and a nodal officer will be nominated for each wetland and they will talk to people about wetlands," the official said at the side event hosted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at the COP 14.
She also said the government has devised wetland health cards to give information on the wetland, including the boundaries defined, oxygen content and other basic parameters.
Moderating the discussion, in which several panelists participated, Suresh Babu, Director of Rivers, Wetlands and Water Policy at WWF India, also emphasised on the importance of wetlands in combating desertification.
"Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests and half of India's rivers are water stressed. We need to reverse this trend to fight land degradation," Babu said.
Among the panellists were Brij Gopal, Founder Director, Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia and Manu Bhatnagar, Principal Director of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).