[STATEMENT] World Wetlands Day

February 2, 2024

Today is World Wetlands Day! Feb 2 What are World
On February 2, World Wetlands Day, the Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders invites everyone to celebrate the immense value of wetlands to sustaining human life and environments. Wetlands include wherever water meets land, either permanently or seasonally: mangroves, peatlands, marshes, rivers, lakes, floodplains, deltas, rice fields, and even coral reefs. World Wetlands Day (WWD) commemorates the anniversary of the ratification of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an international treaty with 172 parties that has paved the way for better preservation and sustainable use of our wetlands1. This year’s WWD theme is Wetlands and Human Wellbeing. We are called to pay special attention to how our survival amidst the climate crisis depends on the conservation of these wetlands, and on our environments on the whole. Wetlands are bountiful and biodiverse—though they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface, 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands2. Across Asia and Oceania, there are 514 Ramsar sites, or wetlands recognized as having international importance3. These sites are important stopping and breeding points for three major bird migration flyways spanning the region, including the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which sustains more than 250 waterbird species4. The earliest civilizations emerged around wetlands, as they are highly productive ecosystems5. They provide important services for human and wildlife populations, from food and water security, livelihood from natural products, shelter and building materials, cultural heritage, and recreation. Wetlands also provide important defense against climate-related shocks: they are natural reservoirs that can recharge groundwater or maintain water supply during droughts, and are shoreline buffers against floods and storm surges. Wetlands like peatlands, mangroves, and marshes should also be preserved, as they are great carbon stores, but they may also release tons of CO2 when degraded6.

It is of grave concern that for all their benefits, we are losing our wetlands three times faster than forests7. A primary cause is land conversion for other purposes: wetlands all over are drained or reclaimed to be transformed into agricultural areas or urban developments. Local communities who have lived with and through the wetlands, and raise awareness of how best to use these ecosystems, are often ignored, attacked, and displaced to make way for unsustainable developments.

Cambodia’s largest urban wetland, the Boeung Kak lake in the middle of Phnom Penh, was filled in to put up a highly exclusive urban city center. A peaceful protest aiming to stop the project in 2011 ended in arrests and beatings by armed anti-riot police, yet the filling of the lake still proceeded. In the end, 4000 families living around the lake were displaced, a huge number of evictions not seen since the Khmer Rouge regime8. In the Manila Bay in the Philippines, more than 600 mangrove trees were illegally cut to make way for a reclamation project that would build an airport complex. As a broad multi-sectoral movement against reclamation emerged, including local fisherfolk, scientists, environmentalists, and church, the state intensified its crackdown on environmental defenders. Two young women anti-reclamation advocates were abducted, psychologically tortured, and later forced to “surrender” by state forces in September 20239.

The destructive conversion of wetlands and the human and environmental rights violations that accompany it form a highly unsustainable and unjust development trend that must be stopped. In light of how wetlands give us life, we call for stronger and more coordinated international action towards protecting our wetlands and opposing development aggression. When we decide what to do with these ecosystems, we must never exclude the local populations that have lived many generations with these wetlands. We must defend their rights to the environment and support them in taking care of our wetlands.

#WWD2024 #WetlandsandHumanWellbeing #WetlandsandPeople #DefendTheDefenders #ClimateJusticeNow

References

[1] [7] Convention on Wetlands Secretariat. (2024). World Wetlands Day. https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/↩↩ [2] United Nations. (2024). World Wetlands Day. https://www.un.org/en/observances/world-wetlands-day ↩ [3] Convention on Wetlands Secretariat. (2024). Ramsar Sites Information Service. https://rsis.ramsar.org/ ↩ [4] Partnership for the East Asian – Australasian Flyway. (2018). The Flyway. https://www.eaaflyway.net/the-flyway/ ↩ [5] Convention on Wetlands Secretariat. (2023). The importance of wetlands. https://www.ramsar.org/about/our-mission/importance-wetlands ↩

[6] Environmental Protection Agency. (2023). Why are Wetlands Important? https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/why-are-wetlands-important ↩

[8] Global Atlas of Environmental Justice. (2021). Boeung Kak Lake Evictions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. https://ejatlas.org/conflict/boeung-kak-lake-evictions-phnom-penh  ↩

[9] AFP. (2023, September 21). Two activists freed in Philippines after being ‘abducted by the military’. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/21/two-activists-freed-in-philippines-after-being-abducted-by-the-military  ↩