Main article: Ramsar Convention
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, or Ramsar Convention, is an international treaty designed to address global concerns regarding wetland loss and degradation. The primary purposes of the treaty are to list wetlands of international importance and to promote their wise use, with the ultimate goal of preserving the world's wetlands. Methods include restricting access to the majority portion of wetland areas, as well as educating the public to combat the misconception that wetlands are wastelands
WETLANDS UNDER THREAT
he world's wetlands are under threat. Half of them may have been destroyed in the past 100 years alone. Our current over-use of fresh water resources and projected future increases pose serious threats – not only to the continued maintenance and functioning of wetland ecosystems and their biological diversity, but to the essence of human well-being.
Wetland habitats are among the most heavily impacted and degraded of all ecological systems, worldwide. What is perhaps even more important is the fact that the only factor to which this degradation can be attributed is human interference and mismanagement of what is, essentially, one of the most important elements for life on Earth.
We cannot live without fresh water. It's as simple as that. In the coming decades, problems associated with the lack of fresh water or access to safe, unpolluted, waters are set to reach global proportions. The solution is not to be found in a single response. It requires a concerted, multifaceted approach to managing natural resources with stakeholders at all levels, from isolated village communities to global industries and world leaders. In order to meet today's and tomorrow's demands for safe, fresh water, we must work together to find an acceptable compromise to what is otherwise destined to be a problem of global scale.
Wetlands in Retreat
The world's wetlands are shrinking. Conversion of swamps, marshes, lakes and floodplains for agriculture, housing and industrial schemes has led to dramatic alterations of landscapes and ecosystem functioning. The United States has already lost some 87 million hectares (54 per cent) of its original wetlands, mainly to agriculture. In the late 19th century, drainage of the Pinsk marshes in Russia destroyed 1.5 million hectares of wetlands. In Europe, Italy has lost about 94 per cent of its wetlands, while Ireland has lost an equivalent amount of its peat bogs. Similar examples can be found around the world.
With 47 per cent of the world's inhabited land being in river valleys, it is not surprising that impacts of this nature occur. What is alarming, however, is that the consequences of this action are still unclear, as well as the rate at which this process is advancing. The abuse of wetlands – their unwise use – reduces their ability to perform useful functions such as water retention and flood control, to supply services and, in many cases, valuable products. Replacing these goods and services – where it is possible – incurs heavy financial and environmental costs.
Industries with a Thirst
Agriculture has been one of the main reasons for the dramatic rate at which wetlands have disappeared. Persistent agricultural subsidies and surpluses are responsible for the transformation of hundreds of thousands of hectares of wetlands in the developed world.
Globally, agriculture accounts for 65 per cent of the total water withdrawal on Earth. Different parts of the world rely on water for agriculture to different extents. Agriculture represents 69 per cent of total water withdrawal in Africa, with the industrial sector accounting for just 5 per cent, while in North America, the industrial sector claims 47 per cent of total water use, with 39 per cent going to agriculture. Large-scale irrigated agriculture...