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World wetlands day


An image of HUF CEO Shraman Jha overlooking a wetland site.

Wetlands: what do they have to do with human welfare?

Wetlands sound suspiciously like wastelands. And why would World Wetlands Day, observed today, February 2, 2024, carry the theme "Wetlands and Human Welfare"?

Two recent experiences may offer a clue:

i) Heavy floods in parts of North India – but where did all the water disappear?

ii) Snowless winter in the mountains – how will the rivers be fed without the melting snow?

What impact could these have on the dry, hot summer ahead?

An reference image a wetland site with water and green grass and trees.

But first, let us understand what wetlands are. Wetlands are typically not particularly attractive, neither shimmering blue lakes nor dense green forests. As the name suggests, these areas are covered with water- seasonally or perennially, often swampy and marshy. Their worth in supporting biodiversity is well-known.

However, a lesser talked about benefit is that they recharge and filter groundwater - a resource that is depleting at an alarming rate. An acre of wetlands can store about five million litres of floodwater! What could be more vital to a society than an assured fresh water supply? Our water reserves are not limitless – they need a regular recharge. Protecting wetlands is a simple, effective way to help this process.

Wetlands' ability to recharge groundwater is critical since the water table is declining at an alarming rate. Groundwater is a lifeline for India, accounting for most of the water for the country's drinking and irrigated agriculture.

India is the largest user of groundwater globally. Wetlands act as a natural water filter, absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus (common agricultural waste) and converting them into less harmful forms.

Most of us living in cities may have given wetlands little thought. Today is an opportune time to reflect on this and find answers to the two questions posed at the beginning!

So, for our two starting questions:

i) Wetlands could store part of the floodwater, which otherwise flows into the sea

ii) If our rivers are running dry, wetlands recharge groundwater-the alternative

The author is the CEO of Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF), an organisation dedicated to improving the situation in water-stressed parts of India. The views expressed are his own.

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