India's riches unprotected
A new and monumental book details more than 100 Indian wetlands that campaigners believe desperately need protection from pollution, development and other forms of misuse.
The 560-page tome describes 160 coastal and freshwater sites only 25 of which have been classified under the international Ramsar wetland treaty. The areas range from the Deepor Beel bird sanctuary in Assam to the Tisgul Tso marshes of Lakakh in the Himalayas and Suchindram and Theroor wetlands at the southern most tip of India.
The authors, Zafar ul Islam and Dr Asad Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) call these wetlands India’s “liquid treasures.” They add in the book’s preface: “The 25 Ramsar sites in India do not represent even a fraction of the diversity of wetland habitats existing in the country.
“In a country like India, where nearly 80 per cent of the population depends on agriculture, rainwater, wetlands, rivers, wells and canals are important to sustain agricultural activities.
“Wetlands are also important for biodiversity conservation because some of the most endangered species survive on wetlands.”
The BNHS will present the book, Potential and Existing Ramsar sites in India, to India’s Vice President, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, at a special event in New Delhi today (July 25).
The organisation, the oldest conservation group in India, together with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), is urging the Indian government to give many more of its wetlands Ramsar status at the next Ramsar convention in South Korea in October.
Many of the 135 sites not listed by Ramsar but included in the book do have some protection under Indian law and only last week, the Chhari-Dhand wetland in Gujarat was made a Conservation Reserve by the state government, after 20 years of lobbying.
These 1,500-square mile grasslands host 270 bird species including 32 different birds of prey and 40,000 common cranes in winter. Desert cats, desert foxes and wolves are found at the site too.
Dr Rahmani, the BNHS Director, said: “Wetlands play a major role in the ecological security of our country. With the looming threat of climate change and food scarcity, we must protect our existing wetlands and revive degraded ones so they can play their ecological role.”
Ian Barber, an Asia specialist at the RSPB, said: “The new sites described in the book all meet the criteria necessary for Ramsar status. The book deliberately covers every Indian state because each one boasts some hugely important sites.
“The book is a major step forward in detailing India’s environmental riches. India is one of the world’s top ten countries for diversity of wildlife and we hope the Indian government will do all it can to recognise this and protect the ecological that wealth few other nations have.”
Credits: BNHS, RSPB