World Wetlands Day: Assam Wetlands Face Rapid Degradation

Wetlands are unique ecosystems that provide water and habitat for a diverse range of plants and animals. The world celebrate Wetland Day every year on February 2 but the main purpose for which this day has been celebrated doesn’t have any importance now-a-days as the wetlands are being encroached on by the people to construct buildings and industries.

Natural wetlands occur where surface water collects or where groundwater discharges to the surface. Due to the water filtration processes which occur at wetlands, they are sometimes referred to as the ‘kidneys’ of a catchment area.

Wetlands that contain water all year round are called permanent wetlands and those that fill seasonally are called temporal wetlands. Others, called ephemeral wetlands, only contain water after heavy rains or during floods, perhaps once every few years.

This year’s theme for World Wetlands Day ‘Wetlands and Water,’ highlights the importance of wetlands as a source of freshwater and encourages action to restore them and stop their loss. This is especially important as we mark the UN Decades of Ocean Science and Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

The wetlands prevent the cities from artificial flood and water logging as the excess water falls in the wetlands but in Assam, the state which suffers from flood every year filled the wetlands to construct buildings and encroached by the people. The administration at several times evicted the people who encroached these wetlands but no permanent solution has been come yet to save the wetlands from encroachers.

According to a study, wetlands of Assam are undergoing rapid degradation in the face of anthropogenic pressure and climate change. The study conducted by the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR) through its Guwahati Regional Centre on the vulnerability of beels of the state found that the degradation was affecting spawning and reproductive behaviour of fishes.

Setting up of industry in one of the wetlands in Assam

The study which was conducted in the beels of Dhubri district during 2018-19 was done under a research project ‘Impact of Climate Change in inland fisheries and development of adaptation strategies.’

The study conducted by ICAR revealed that over the past 30 years, about 70 percent of the beels experienced reduction in water-spread areas.

High level of siltation, encroachment, detachment of marginal areas due to construction of roads, etc., caused reduction in the water-spread area from the original area, mostly in the dry season.

“As a result, spawning and reproductive behaviour of the Indian major carps have been impacted. Flood in Assam during the rainy season is as severe a problem for the fisheries sector as waterlessness during the dry season, which makes a wetland all the more vulnerable,” the study said.

The study further said that most of the beels of Assam experienced major flood in 1988, 2014, 2017 and 2019.

It may be mentioned that the wetlands in Amingaon have also been encroached as many industries have been set up in the area spoiling the wetlands. The 3-star Ginger Hotel in Guwahati has been constructed in the wetland.

One of the wetlands encroached by people

According to the study, the majority of the beels of Assam reported exotic fishes like Cyprinus carpio (common carp), Ctenopharyngodon idella (grass carp), Hypophthalmichthys molitrix (silver carp) etc, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis (bighead carp) and Piaractus brachypomus (pacu).

“Surprisingly, Pacu, a highly invasive species locally known as ‘Rupchanda’, was reported in a few beels (like Hakama beel) that threatened small indigenous fishes of that wetland,” the report said.

Worryingly, there has been a decrease in fish catch per person per day in a majority of the beels as compared to the past 30 years.

It is due to the encroachment that migratory birds that flocked to the state during winter have now decreased the wetlands which are home for the birds have been filled with garbage and detachment of margin 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.


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