‘70% wetland loss key reason behind monsoon flooding’
The city’s annual flooding woes can be attributed to the loss of more than three-fourths of its wetlands due to rapid urbanisation and illegal encroachments, a member of the national wetland conservation governing body said on Saturday.
Afroz Ahmad, member of National Wetland Committee and advisor to Maharashtra government’s environment and forest departments, presented his views while inaugurating ‘Wetlands of Sindhudurg’, India’s first wetland website (sindhudurgwetlands.in) that documents inland wetland sites across the south Konkan district. The website provides information on environmental and socio-cultural aspects of wetland conservation as well.
The environmental scientist highlighted how Mumbai had witnessed wetland reclamation, more than any other major Indian city over the past 50 years.
“Mumbai’s shoreline itself, which has a 6-metre depth, is also termed as a wetland. Reclamation there has made the city vulnerable. Moreover, river floodplains and catchment areas have already been built upon. This is the reason why maximum flooding takes place. There is no water absorption anymore,” said Ahmad, co-author of the Centre’s guidelines for Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.
Ahmad’s assessments were in line with a study by Wetlands International South Asia (WISA) that showed Mumbai had lost 71% wetlands from 1970 to 2014, followed by Ahmedabad (57%), Bengaluru (56%), Hyderabad (55%), Delhi and National Capital Region (38%), and Pune (37%).
“Comprehensive wetland inventories are not yet available, but some datasets indicate Mumbai witnessed very high wetland loss through reclamation but so have other major cities. Post 1970s when cities started expanding, they started eating into the wetlands,” said Ritesh Kumar, director, WISA.
According to the National Wetland Atlas 2011 (Maharashtra), made under the 2010 wetland rules, Mumbai had 475 wetlands — 412 in the suburbs and 63 in south Mumbai — spread across 14,045 hectare (ha). However, under the amended 2017 rules, Mumbai will have only one major notified wetland — spread across four zones at Powai Lake (181.9ha), according to the state environment department.
“It is advisable that all wetlands, including those identified in the atlas, and lakes be protected as heritage sites. Develop brief documents and action plan for their management immediately,” said Ahmad. He added that with 373 wetlands covering an area of 13,979ha comprising 33% creeks and 31% rivers, Sindhudurg was among the first districts in India to develop community-driven wetland brief documentation committee and listing wetlands taluka-wise as an inventory. “The findings are available on the website, which will be a handy tool for policy makers and state officials to oversee conservation. It can also help in developing appropriate area-centric policies for tourism, skill development and resource utilisation,” said advocate Omkar Keni, one of the website contributors.
The Sindhudurg model, which is now on a public platform, needs to be replicated for Maharashtra and across India, said Dr Ahmad adding, “With the pandemic giving its message to India to not toy with nature, conservation is the need of the hour as natural wetlands are being lost rapidly.”
WHY KONKAN NEEDS TO PROTECT ITS WETLANDS
Natural wetlands are permanently or seasonally saturated in water and create habitats for aquatic plants. They retain large volumes of water and their slow release makes them important for combatting extreme weather conditions like floods and droughts. Wetlands also contribute to water purification, water regulation, biodiversity, aesthetics and recreation, according to the United Nations.
According to the National Wetlands Atlas, published by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2010, the Konkan region of Maharashtra has 4,799 wetlands. However, experts said they are at threat across the state due to natural factors. “Owing to low organic matter, there are limitations in the form of soil, mostly of basaltic origin and lateritic soil, along the Konkan region. Due to this, they have poor water-holding capacity while seasonal river systems have small length. The soil explodes in the form of springs during heavy rain events. Wetlands in such areas are indispensable and deserve top priority,” said Dr Ahmad.