Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. Being a reservoir of rich biodiversity, wetlands have protected and also helped in maintaining environmental equilibrium.
Wetlands are found in areas where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by water. In simpler terms they are areas filled with water either seasonally or permanently.
For quite some time, they had been treated as transitional habitats or serial stages in succession from open water to land but the wetlands are now considered to be distinct ecosystems having specific ecological characteristics, functions and values.
With industrialization, the cities and town started expanding and concomitantly the demand for new land areas. Encroaching wetland areas would lead to further degradation of environment, and so a proper understanding of wetland and its functions was felt exigent by environment workers and activists, organizations and governments.
This led to the adoption of Ramasar Convention which define wetlands as: ‘areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters’.
Wetlands, natural and manmade, freshwater or brackish, provide numerous ecological services. The density of birds, in particular, is an accurate indication of the ecological health of a particular wetland. However, unsustainable use of wetland without reckoning of their assimilative capacity constitutes major threat to the conservation and management of these vital biodiversity rich areas.
India’s wetlands are catalogued in the National Wetland Atlas prepared by the Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre. The Atlas identifies a total of 201,503 wetlands covering 14.7 million hectares across the country. Areas under rivers and streams, pegged at 5.3 million hectares, are not covered under the wetland rules.
Man-made wetlands – which number 145,641, or 72% of the total number, and are spread over 4.4 million hectares – are also excluded. In other words, the rules fail to cover 9.7 million hectares or 65% of the total area identified as wetlands by the government.
The riverine state of Assam has numerous wetlands, the majority of which can be term as floodplain wetland with immense economic value provides source of livelihood for local community.
While the productivity and survival of these wetlands is totally dependent on human activities and interferences which pose a great threat to the existing ecological balance. Southern Kamrup Region of Assam is rich for flood plain wetland diversity, particularly the Dora Beel, Chanddubi & Salsala Wetlands- connecting with Kolohi tributary and Brahmaputra River.
This aquatic zone is the habitant of world famous National Water Animal River Dolphin (Which is enlisted as endangered Animal by WWF). Besides, the habitat of national aquatic animal river dolphin of Kulshi river is maintained in the confluence of Dora Beel & Kolohi river, which is the prime terrain of the said animal.
From the conservation point of view Dora Beel is contributing a major role for sustains of River Dolphin Population. Dora Beel, a unique wetland habitat providing plenty of resources and ecological services to the community inhabiting the surrounding region.
The Dora Beel lies between 26°04’48″ latitude N to 26°05’27” N latitude and 91°26’37” E longitude to 91°27’37”E longitude. According to the Survey of India toposheet of 1071, it was estimated that the total area of the Beel was 297.96 acres which has shrunk to 278.41 acres.
Again the Dora Beel wetland having it’s about the 100-hectare water area which is the source of livelihood of about 24,000 fisherman populations. In addition to that, this wetland is famous for about 30 species of migratory birds, species of important aquatic plants (including Nelumo) and sixty numbers of species of fishes having commercial and ornamental values, and other endangered aquatic fauna including amphibians and soft shelled turtles.
It is also a major breeding ground for over 60 species of fish. Dorabeel wetland is not only a natural wetland, it is an unique example of sustainable co-existence of man and nature, which is the heartland of local festivals and rituals since ages.
This wetland is also a source of harvesting water for the surrounding about 100-hectare paddy fields covering 18 villages. Forty thousand people around Dora Beel depend directly or indirectly on the wetland’s natural resources for their livelihood, be it fishing, agriculture, grazing, livestock etc.
There have potentiality of develop ecotourism in this wetland area which may create livelihood for local people. This significant wetland is facing threats and challenges from the illegal settlements and industries cropping up in the surrounds. Again encroachment in this wetland is another issue for the existence of Dora Beel.
World Wetlands Day which is celebrated each year to mark the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. This year the World Wetlands Day’s theme was about the sustainable urban future, focusing on the need and relevance of wetlands in creating a viable future for the generations to come.
The onus is on us to take measures whichever way possible to work for the benefit of the environment keeping aside the vested interests at bay. In this backdrop, it is high time to conserve the Dora Beel wetland lest we bear the brunt of ignorance.
In this regard a statutory body may be constituted under the Wetland (Conservation and management) Rules 2010, for protection and management of Dora Beel under the provisions laid by different national and state environmental acts, steps should be taken for promotion of actions to assess and value the ecosystem services of the Dora Beel for a holistic ecosystem-based management among local communities residing near Dora Beel wetland.
With climate change becoming more apparent than ever, it is a responsibility of all of us to take care of nature and giving our timely effort in conserving wetlands we would be significantly helping in creating a sustainable environment.
Arup Jyoti Kalita is the State Coordinator of Resource Group for Education and Advocacy for Community (REACH), Assam and can be reached at [email protected]