Opinion| UNESCO Cairo In-focus World Wetlands Day ,It’s time for Wetlands Restoration

nuria sanz
7 Min Read

Wetlands are areas covered by water, seasonally or permanently. Wetlands represent a critical interface serving as a transition zone that ensures the interlinkages between land and water. In these waterscapes, water, soil, solar energy, plants, animals, and people, interact to produce some of the most complex and diverse ecosystems and rich cultural heritage. At the global scale, the livelihood of more than one Billion people depends on wetland services, which account for more than 47 Trillion US Dollars annually. Serving as flood control systems,  wetlands are also nature’s most efficient water filters, trapping sediments, removing nutrients (e.g., Nitrogen and Phosphorus), and often chemically detoxifying water from other pollutants such as oils. Marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens and peatlands, all of which are wetlands, play a major role in regulating the global climate with their efficient carbon storage. 

In addition to their recreational value, the cultural significance of wetlands cannot be over-emphasized. As indigenous an d local wetlands communities subsist on wetland services and products including fisheries, reedbeds, transport waterways, and medicinal and economic plants, they develop over centuries deep cultural and spiritual connections to their wetlands, which they manifest through art, crafts, food, architecture, songs, narrated traditions, and in daily practices. It is not surprising therefore that by 2016, 97 of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (sites of significant universal cultural value) host wetlands that are also listed under the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands.

Today, the world’s wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. Land use conversion, pollution from agricultural, industrial, and municipal wastewater; changing hydrologic regimes, and climate change, have resulted in the loss of 35% of the world’s wetlands over the past 50 years, with an accelerating rate in recent years. It is time for action to halt further degradation and to restore these precious ecosystems.

This year, we celebrate World Wetlands Day 2023  by joining the call for everyone to work towards wetland restoration. 2023 marks two years since the launching of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in 2021 . This year also marks the mid-term of the UN Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development since the launching in 2018. UNESCO through UNESCO World Heritage sites, The Man and Biosphere Programme, the Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme and Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission, is contributing to the UN actions on all of these programmes, which are directly and indirectly linked to the conservation and restoration of wetlands by building capacities, raising awareness, and engaging stakeholders, the public, and policy and decision makers in dialogue to nurture individual commitment to sustainability and to develop well informed policies.

The Arab Region is home to 172 wetlands of international value, 10 out of the 36 UNESCO biosphere reserves in the Arab region hosts wetlands of International importance. The total surface areas of wetlands in the region is 15,230,388 ha accounting 1.69% of the Arab countries surface areas with a variation from 0.00005 to 13.8% (fig. 1). These wetlands include river deltas, salt and fresh water marshes, mangroves, estuaries, and oases. Some of these wetlands are threatened by human activities leading to habitats fragmentation and loss, land degradation, and adverse socio-economic impacts. 

At UNESCO Cairo Office, we have already taken actions. In May 2022, we launched with international and regional partners the ReWilde Arabia initiative. Driven by landscape connectivity and ecosystem restoration, the initiative aims to address human induced habitat fragmentation, by linking UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and UNESCO Global Geoparks to internationally designated sites and  nationally declared sites to strengthen social capital, empower communities, ensure economic growth at local level, and upscale these practices to national and global levels. The conceptual framework of the initiative, which was successfully demonstrated through a joint project between UNESCO Cairo and UNDP/Lebanon, at local scale in Lebanon in 2018/2019, entails rethinking land use and management, biodiversity conservation and wildlife protection along with launching a new era for UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the Arab region [https://en.unesco.org/node/354750]. We have also developed and implemented local policy instruments that are aligned with research instruments for UNESCO biosphere reserves in the Arab region. These instruments are geared towards the protection and promotion of sustainable management and ecosystems restoration including wetlands. These policies capture the mandates of all MEAs-Biodiversity cluster to provide an adequate model for governance structure and transdisciplinary conservation pathways [https://www.unesco-arabmab.com/en/event].

” Wetlands” are at the center of the current environmental and ecological debate on how to face the challenges due to climate change. UNESCO Cairo has the intention to implement a series of events, experts’ meetings and awareness raising campaign to explore how to categorize wetlands to better engage public knowledge and perception with our global responsibility to preserve the wetlands’ cultural and natural biodiversity.” Dr Nuria Sanz, Office In Charge, UNESCO Cairo Office.

Today, we announce the launching of a series of activities to raise awareness on wetlands and Waterscapes in the Arab region and to bring together interdisciplinary group of experts from the region and beyond to share best practices and to draw a road map for wetland restoration and conservation in the Arab Region.

It’s time for Wetlands Restoration

Nuria Sanz, Officer in Charge, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab States

Bisher Imam, Senior Programme Specialist, Hydrology Sector, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab State

Elsa Sattout, Regional Programme Specialist, Ecology and Earth Science, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab States

The Arab Region is home to 172 wetlands of international value (Data Source: https://rsis.ramsar.org/, background image: NASA Blue Marble/MODIS)

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