Statement of Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on World Water Day

Statement of Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on World Water Day

22 March 2017

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The East Kolkata Wetlands Ramsar Site (India) has provided a vital service in receiving and treating the waste water from the city of Kolkata. Each day, the wetland receives some 1,000 million litres of sewage. This natural waste water treatment system developed by the local community with their traditional wisdom saves the city the cost of having to build and maintain a conventional treatment plant .

Wetlands are commonly referred to as the earth’s kidneys, because they function as filters, removing harmful waste from water.

Increasingly waste water is recognized as a growing global concern that is threatening access to safe drinking water for about 1.8 billion people.

Furthermore poorly managed waste water generated from industry, farms and society, is flowing back into our lakes, rivers and aquifers and polluting them with harmful substances that in-danger wildlife, livelihoods as well as contaminate our fresh water sources.

Today on World Water Day, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands joins the international community to raise global awareness for the need for better management of waste water. 

Population growth and accelerated urbanisation are increasing the quantity of waste-water generated. At the same time global consumption and demand for water continues to rise, even when a supply gap of 40% is projected by 2030. Therefore finding sustainable solutions for improved management and re-use of waste-water are urgent because of the existing threat to global water security, as well as being an obstacle to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on access to safe water for all by 2030.

Plants found in wetlands can absorb a reasonable amount of waste within their roots. They act as natural filters absorbing pesticides or chemicals and removing them before they are released into fresh water bodies.

The Nakivubo Swamp in Kampala, Uganda for example filters all the sewage and industrial waste for free. A treatment plant to do the same it was found would cost over $2 million per year. The East Kolkata Wetlands, a Ramsar Site in India, also treats waste from the city and has saved on the cost of building and maintaining a conventional treatment plant.

Yet globally it is estimated that over 80% of wastewater generated by society flows back into ecosystems without be­ing treated or reused. When waste water is dumped into fresh water ecosystems, it puts at risk the health of the wetland and the people who depend on it.

Once our ecosystems are polluted it becomes necessary to adopt measures and undertake initiatives to help restore them. Restoring an ecosystem previously polluted with waste may be costly but is possible. Lake Prespa, one of the oldest fresh water bodies in the Balkans, was previously polluted.  A 30% reduction in pesticide use and the setup of a new sewage treatment facility resulted in an improvement in the water quality of the Lake and recovery of the indigenous fish species. In Bolivia the Government is working with the local population to revive ancient Inca farming techniques to help reduce waste from flowing into Lake Titicaca.

Healthy wetlands offer multiple –benefits ranging from filtering waste from water, providing fresh water, as well as sustaining community livelihoods. They are therefore a cost effective and sustainable solution to be considered in efforts to improve access to clean and safe water for all.