World Wetlands Day – Healthy forests, healthy wetlands

Background: Wetlands, such as mangroves, peat forests and freshwater swamp forests, are home to a wealth of biodiversity. To mark this year’s World Wetlands Day on Wednesday 2 February, IUCN is highlighting the role and importance of forests in wetlands, of particular poignancy as 2011 is the International Year of Forests. This year’s World Wetlands Day also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar protected wetland sites cover an area of 186 million hectares, about the size of Mexico, the largest protected area network in the world.

Groundwater dependant ecosystems support livelihoods in Vietnam Photo: IUCN Vietnam

 Wetlands provide many services, such as food, fresh water and fuel, and fulfill vital roles in carbon storage, pollution control and protection from natural hazards, such as floods and storms. Water supplies are dependent on healthy wetlands; healthy forests help to support and protect wetlands. Yet, there are worrying signs that wetlands are being lost at a higher rate than any other ecosystem. According to The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 50% of our wetlands globally have been lost over the last century. Widespread degradation and loss is triggered by the development of infrastructure, land conversion, deforestation and the introduction of invasive species.

Investing in forests within wetlands goes a long way. For example, New York City found that it could avoid spending US$ 4-6 billion on water treatment plants (plus annual maintenance costs) by investing just US$ 1 billion on protecting forests in water catchment areas. Switzerland saves around US$ 64 million a year by using untreated groundwater, naturally filtered through forested watersheds. Forests function as a filter, storage and purifier in water catchments.

Key issues:

• “Water is the irreplaceable source of life and wetlands are the source of water for the vast majority of the world's people,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Wetlands are not only natural infrastructure that store and clean water, regulate flows and protect coasts. They are also food bowls for millions of people around the world and their major source of livelihood – farming, fisheries and food security all depend on healthy wetlands.”
• “Investment needs to be made to secure the water resources we currently have and, as part of this, decision makers need to recognize the vital services that a healthy natural environment provides, particularly as communities adapt to the effects of climate change,” says Mark Smith, Head IUCN Water Programme. “Demand for energy and food is growing as populations expand, driving up the demand for water. Now, more than ever, we must invest in natural infrastructure, such as forests and wetlands, that will safeguard water resources for people and nature.”

Notes to editors:
World Wetlands Day marks 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. Each year since 1997, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and groups of citizens at all levels of the community have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general and the Ramsar Convention in particular.

For more information contact:
Nicki Chadwick
, Media Relations Officer, t +41 22 999 0229, m +41 79 528 3486, e
Claire Warmenbol, Water Programme Communications Officer, t +41 22 999 0188, e

Work area: 
South America
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
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