Sri Lanka launches National Wetland Policy

28/10/2004

National Wetland Policy in Sri Lanka

During the past 15 years, Sri Lankan Authorities have increasingly recognized the importance of wetlands and their management. The first major step was the establishment of the National Wetland Steering Committee (NWSC) in 1990 with Cabinet approval, which was reconstituted in 2003, in order to integrate plans for wetland areas and to coordinate development and conservation activities. The Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Environments and Natural Resources in Sri Lanka is the chairman of NWSC.

But the non-existence of a national policy for wetlands was a major shortcoming to protecting the wetlands where necessary and to developing them in a sustainable manner, which has led to many serious problems resulting in gradual degradation of this valuable ecosystem. Taking this into consideration, NWSC formed a working group solely for the purpose of preparing a National Policy on Wetlands in order to address issues with regard to wetland conservation and management in the country. This working group was led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, after having gone through a very wide consultative process, where all relevant stakeholders including the general public in country were involved, ultimately prepared the National Wetland Policy which was approved by the Government of Sri Lanka in May 2004.

The National Wetland Policy has identified six objectives,
They are

  • to protect and conserve wetland ecosystems
  • to prevent illegal utilization of wetlands
  • to restore and maintain the biological diversity and productivity of wetlands
  • to enhance ecosystem services from wetlands habitats
  • to assure sustainable use of wetlands and traditional practices by local communities; and
  • to meet national commitments as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

To achieve the above six objectives, four policy directions have been identified.
They are

  • wetland management
  • institutional arrangements
  • intersectoral linkages
  • research & development and education.

The next important step is the preparation of a Strategy and the Action Plan, which are currently being finalized by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Sri Lanka for the implementation of the policy.

Of the four policy directions, Institutional Arrangements proposed in the policy play an important role in conserving the wetlands. The key thing is the establishment of the local level Wetland Management Committees (WMC) to manage the wetlands with community participation in the area. At the moment there are different kinds of NGO's, CBO's and various types of community organizations that have come up in order to conserve the wetlands, but there is no proper mechanism as such to guide them and facilitate their programmes. So in future in keeping with the policy directions, these community groups will be mobilized to form Wetland Management Committees and establish an island-wide network of them and obtain their active participation to protect this valuable wetland ecosystem for future generations. In addition to that, Wetland Facilitating Committees at Divisional and District levels will be established to provide the facilitation to the programmes developed by the WMC and coordinate activities of geovernment agencies. Divisional Secretaries and District Secretaries respectively will chair these WFC's.

Central Environmental Authority has also a major role to play as a facilitator at national level. Therefore National Wetland Management Secretariat, which is now located at CEA, will be transformed into National Wetland Management Unit to facilitate the policy implementation.

Wetlands today are subject to many threats, especially the wetlands in urban areas where the land prices are very high and many wetland areas were already gone forever. Fortunately, now we have the National Policy on wetlands, but that is not sufficient - we could conserve the wetland only by implementing the policy with all other stakeholders in the country especially with people's participation. Therefore, CEA as the main facilitating body in this whole exercise will have a big role to perform in future to conserve wetlands in the country.

T M A S K Rodrigo
Deputy Director / Coordinator
(Wetland Management Secretariat) / CEA

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