Ramsar List: What it means for JK and Country’s water bodies

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Environment is becoming the most trending topic on  earth owing to visible damaging effects of climate change. Kashmir valley owing to its unique natural beauty has always been an environmentally fragile zone.

The topography of Kashmir and harsh terrain makes things complicated and brings to priority the efforts to safeguard key natural resources.

Kashmir has been a world known hub of beautiful water bodies and serene mountains.

Due to lack of awareness of people and inept governance in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, the successive State Governments  had neglected Environment to hilt. 

The result was obvious destruction of fragile zones and a jungle of constructions coming up over water bodies . But now we are seeing a renewed effort to safeguard the water bodies of Kashmir,  which are key to our survival.

The biggest development that deserves all the appreciation is the cleanliness drive launched in all the major water bodies of Jammu and Kashmir, however, the most striking feature now is the more water bodies of Jammu and Kashmir entering into the prestigious Ramsar List.

Wetlands which have also been key to the ecosystem of Kashmir and have  faced similar havoc like Water bodies, are also being given due attention in new look,  and considered for ‘Ramsar Status’.

It is important to mention that the history behind the dynamics of the Ramsar Convention is interesting. The convention was held in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in February 1971 and was originally contracted by seven countries when it came into force on 21 December 1975.

As of October 2019 there are 171 contracting parties and over 2,000 designated sites covering over 200,000,000hectares (490,000,000 acres).The Ramsar convention entered into force in India on 1 February, 1982.

The government has on the eve of 75th Independence  day  included two wetlands in Kashmir on the Ramsar site list and the voices concerned with protection of water bodies are affirming that it will go a long way in  protecting these water bodies better. The two wetlands are; Shalbugh and Haigam.

In Kashmir,  two water bodies were already on the list – Hokersar and Wular Lake. In the Jammu region the Surinsar-Mansar was also on the list already.

Now Jammu and Kashmir has the honour of having  five water bodies falling on the list of water bodies which are of international importance. People are hoping that in coming times more wetlands and water bodies of Jammu and Kashmir would make it to Ramsar List.

 I have fond memories of visiting Hokersar Wetland often with my schoolmates  and getting bamboozled by the diversity of flora and fauna there, especially the migratory birds.  My school happened to be very close to famed Hokersar Wetland, making me have a childhood Connection  with the wetlands.

The bigger picture is how through precious products found in water bodies and wetlands local communities survive and thrive, and the health benefits, medicinal proportions of the innumerable resources found in water bodies and wetlands that makes them engines of development and progress. A simple water chestnut found in our water bodies and wetlands has millions of health benefits and the list of such products found in these precious water bodies is endless.

On a macroscopic level too, on eve of the 75th Independence Day the Government gave good news to the entire country when it comes to preservation of wetlands and Waterbodies.

The most fascinating aspect is that just two days before we marked the 75th Independence Day India added  11 more wetlands to the list of Ramsar sites to make a total 75 Ramsar sites covering an area of 13,26,677 ha in the country .

The 11 new sites include:  Four (4) sites in Tamil Nadu, Three (3) in Odisha, Two (2) in Jammu & Kashmir and One (1) each in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Designation of these sites would help in conservation and management of wetlands and wise use of their resources. 

The Ramsar Convention sites being augmented in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country shows the will of the government in preserving the water bodies and wetlands.

We as a nation are hopeful that when we would be marking the 100th year of Independence we would be having a large number of water bodies under the prestigious Ramsar Convention, and the pessimistic developments of their havoc and destruction  would be a thing of the past.

On the other hand, India has reasons to celebrate more number of sites being brought under the prestigious Ramsar Convention list. More Ramsar listed sites means huge importance given to that Water body or wetlands. However in coming years the hope would be to keep on expanding the list .

Among the country  parties, according to the Ramsar list, the United Kingdom has the maximum number of sites (175), Mexico has 142, and Bolivia has the maximum area of designated sites of almost 148,000 sq km.

Although through concrete efforts of the government, India is also at the forefront of wetland conservation efforts; nearly 10 percent of the country’s total wetland area has now been designated as Ramsar sites. This makes India  the leader of the South Asian countries.

In nutshell, the water bodies and wetlands should continue to receive the attention as survival of our future generations is linked to their flourishing.

Tehmeena Rizvi is a Public Policy Professional from J&K, Currently working in New Delhi. Her areas of work include gender, inclusion, conflict and development.

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