A healthy network of wetlands can deliver a range of hydrological functions such as sustaining base flows of rivers, moderating water flows, storing and recharging groundwater, and within their carrying capacity even cleaning water. However for wetlands to be able to deliver these benefits, their functioning needs to be built within water and land use management plans.
South Asia is home to nearly one-fourth of world’s population, inhabiting just 3% of the global land area and about 5% of world’s renewable freshwater resources. Irrigated agriculture supplies 60 – 80% of region’s staple food, while accounting for up to 90% of water use. Over 25 – 27 million shallow tube wells are the main source of irrigation water. Water, once considered abundant in the region, is becoming increasingly scarce, with rapid declines in per capita freshwater availability. Unsustainable water extraction has led to falling water tables in several parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Wetlands functioning is predicated on the availability of water of right quantity, timing and quality. Historically, infrastructure led planning adopted for agriculture development in the region has proven counterproductive for natural ecosystems as wetlands, which have tended to isolate the wetlands from their river channels, alter their water inflow and outflow patterns and even convert these into alternate land uses such as permanent agriculture. Ecosystem water requirements are still seen as competing demands of water. Integrating wetlands within water management through cooperative planning and management processes within the two sectors is a logical pathway for deriving co-benefits.
We seek to align policies across agriculture, water resources and related sectors to transform the way water risks are managed within landscapes, including the improved management and restoration of wetlands as networks of natural water infrastructure. We work to bridge the science, communication and practice gaps that prevent or limit consideration of wetlands within water resources plans and programmes.