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Save wetlands that sustain animal and bird species.

Summary: In populated areas, wetlands protect human life, offering a natural infrastructure to help buffer against the threat of flooding, which has become incre...

Martha Rojas Urrego (Environment)

For most of us, it is relatively easy to be captivated by the beauty of wetlands. Just consider the elegant flamingos, now so familiar to Dubai, that feed in the area's wetlands; or the more than 67 species of water birds supported by the Ras Al Khor Wildlife SanctuaryThere is the fascinating Spoonbill, with its spatula-like beak, and the sleek and functional bill of the shiny-feathered Glossy Ibis. We are amazed by the unique coral reefs of the Gulf and fascinated by the languid and endearing dugongs that graze on underwater grasses in coastal waters.

These are just some examples of the bountiful natural beauty that wetlands endow. But in urban settings, wetlands take on even greater significance because they're so interlaced within the fabric of everyday life, business decisions, industry operations, infrastructure, architectural design, and governmental policy.

In populated areas, wetlands protect human life, offering a natural infrastructure to help buffer against the threat of flooding, which has become increasingly common with extreme weather events. These buffers come in the form of salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, or other wetland habitats-all of which house excess water in times of heavy rainfall and flooding. During the hot season, wetlands are invaluable in reducing city temperatures. They're natural filters that remove sediment and pollutants as water flows through them, ensuring safe water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Their fisheries strengthen urban security. And engineered properly, wetlands can address drainage issues, directing water flow in a way that prevents or reduces pollution downstream, where people reside. Wetlands offer up areas for recreation and exercise, enhancing the wellbeing of local communities. They add to regional identity and are of cultural and spiritual importance. And the rich biodiversity of wetlands and their aesthetic appeal provide the opportunity for responsible ecotourism. Importantly, wetlands help create jobs, so local economies can thrive. Simply, wetlands sustain us.

Yet, the world's wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate-three times faster than forests-while much of the world doesn't even bat an eye.

We are at a decisive moment. The planning and actions put into motion at COP13 to halt and reverse the loss of our planet's wetlands will have echoing effects on future generations and the sustainability of our planet.

It is time to act swiftly and surely to adopt policies and practices for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Wetland interventions must be scaled; raising awareness of the services they provide; integrating wetland conservation, wise use, and restoration into policies across all societal sectors; creating economic incentives so conserving wetlands makes good business sense in both the long- and short-term; taking action to eliminate perverse incentives that threaten wetlands; improving how we take inventory and track the extent of wetlands; and building wetlands into all planning to achieve each and every one of the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Wetlands are the most valuable ecosystem in the world. They benefit humankind in so many ways. They always have-and in so many wondrously subtle and singular ways. The decisive moment is now. We must protect our wetlands. And in turn, they will continue to give us life.

- Martha Rojas Urrego is Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Oct 19, 2018
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