Wetlands are amazing areas of water that feeds the human civilization with water and food and are home to uncountable species of animals and plants around the world. Wetlands of Nepal range from the heavy ponds of sub-tropical Terai to the glacial lakes of the Himalayas. These wetlands accommodate a large number of endemic wildlife species, many of which are on the verge of extinction. Swampy rice fields, water logged areas and ponds are also understood as wetlands in the country. There are about 50 different definitions of wetlands in the world. However, Ramsar convention, the official international body for wetlands around the world define wetlands as “Areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, natural or artificial, permanent or temporary where the water is static or flowing, fresh, briny or salty, including areas of water logging made by man like paddy fields, the depth of which at low tides does not exceed 6 meters.”
The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. In Nepal, wetlands cover over 743,500 hectares of area, i.e. nearly 5% of the area of the country. The Terai consists of large numbers of wetlands (163) followed by hills and the mountains (79) extended from Mechi in the east to Mahakali in the west. Among 27 recognized global freshwater wetlands types, 20 are found in Nepal. But at present only 9 wetlands are included in the Ramsar sites. They are Koshi Tappu in Sunsari, Beeshazari in Chitwan, Ghodaghodi in Kailali, Gokyo in Solukhumbu, Gosaikunda in Rasuwa, Jagadishpur in Kapilbastu, Maipokhari in Illam, Phoksundo in Dolpa and Rara Lake in Mugu. (Rijal, 2016)
Out of 841 bird species, 193 of them are recorded in the wetland of Nepal and similarly, 89 globally threatened flora and fauna are recorded out of 91. Where, 11 flora and 59 fauna are dependent on wetlands for all or part of the year. Probably for some of the wild relatives of cultivated lands, wetlands are their last stronghold.
For the conservation of biodiversity and genetic resources, wetlands play a significant role. Minimization of flood and erosion, conservation, storage and purification of static water, nutrient retention, groundwater recharge are some aspects of wetlands. Likewise, it even helps in maintenance of ecosystem by supporting food web. People are also dependent on wetlands for their livelihood from fishing, irrigation, religious and cultural use.
Expansion of human settlement, hunting and associated disturbances, encroachment, effluent for agriculture and challenge of globalization/modernization with respect to the sustainable use of resources are the most influential threats for wetlands. Political instability and uncertain laws are also the obstacle for management of wetlands. The wetland policy of Nepal aims to conserve the wetland ecosystem and ensure the participation of local communities for sustainable use of its components.
Wildlife Conservation Nepal focuses on conservation of wetlands across the country. It has developed educational materials for students and teachers in order to familiarize them with the importance of wetlands, document local wetland areas of importance and work towards conserving them. At the moment WCN is working in Parbati Kunda, a highland pond that has a lot of significance in the Langtang region and feeds more than 600 households of Gatlang Village. It celebrates World Wetland Day every February with its national and international partners in conservation.