GUWAHATI, April 17 – The wetlands of Assam face serious threats, and without urgent interventions not just the environment but nearby human settlements too will have to suffer grave consequences. This belief has been shared by several experts who have studied the State’s wetlands over a long span of time only to become increasingly concerned.
Many of them believe that the importance of wetlands has been ignored by State Governments over decades, as a result of which many have been destroyed or irreparably degraded. They suggest that immediate steps have to be taken to ensure that the wetlands are protected from encroachment, siltation, and pollution – three of the most dangerous threats.
According to Dr Parimal Chandra Bhattacharya, Executive Trustee of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and former Professor of Gauhati University, the value of a healthy wetland can be realised from the fact that they can be seven to eight times more productive than a forest of equal size. The environmental services wetlands provide are equally significant.
‘Wetlands are unique in having a range of wildlife, a range that can be matched by very few other ecosystems… protecting wetlands translates into conserving biodiversity for future generations,’ he noted.
He and some other experts are of the view that local people should be made aware of the value of wetlands and therefore the need to protect them. Involvement of local communities is part of an effective formula to save wetlands.
At present Assam has about 1,01,231.60 ha broadly categorised as wetlands. Morigaon district with 11,658 ha has the largest concentration followed by neighbouring Nagaon district with 11,259 ha. Of the total area covered by wetlands, swamps and marshes constitute almost 43 per cent. Worryingly, these swamps and marshes are among the most threatened of wetlands as their environmental value has not been estimated or even understood by the authorities concerned.
Herpetologist Dr Firoz Ahmed, who is familiar with a number of wetlands feel that a large number of wildlife, including amphibians will be seriously endangered with degradation of wetlands. ‘This will be a disaster because amphibians are rightly considered as indicator species… which tell us about the health of the particular ecosystem they live in,’ he remarked.
Amphibians along with other animals and flora found in wetlands offer a variety of ecosystem services from which people gain direct benefits. Degradation or destruction of such wetlands will have a definite impact on a number of areas such as ground water recharge and water availability in adjacent settlements.