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| Last Updated:: 01/02/2016

Wetlands, Wetland ecosystems for human health

Wetlands of India

According to NWIA (National Wetland Inventory and Assessment) the total area under wetland in the country is estimated as 15.260 MHa, 2011 which accounts for 4.63% of the geographical area. Excluding rivers and streams the total wetland area is estimated as 10 MHa. State-wise distribution of wetlands showed that Lakshadweep has 96.12% of geographic area under wetlands followed by Andaman and Nicobar Islands (18.52%), Daman and Diu (18.46%) and Gujarat (17.56%), have the highest extent of wetlands. Puducherry (12.88%), West Bengal (12.48%), Assam (9.74%), Tamil Nadu (6.92%), Goa (5.76%), Andhra Pradesh (5.26%), and Uttar Pradesh (5.16%) are wetland rich states. The least extents(less than 1.5 % of the state geographic area) have been observed in Mizoram (0.66%) followed by Haryana (0.86%), Delhi (0.93%), Sikkim (1.05%), Nagaland (1.30%), and Meghalaya (1.34%).

Inland – Natural WetlandsTamil Nadu has highest number of lakes (4369) followed by Uttar Pradesh (3684) and West Bengal (1327). Ox-bow lakes/Cut-off meanders are observed in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa. Large number of riverine wetlands exists in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.

Inland – Man-made Wetlands: Andhra Pradesh has highest number of reservoirs (4527) followed by Madhya Pradesh (2005), Uttar Pradesh (1608), Orissa (1379) and Gujarat (1213). Details are summarized below. Large number of Tanks/ponds exists in Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

Small wetlands (less than 2.25 ha): There are 555557 such wetlands exists in the country. West Bengal has highest number of small wetlands (138707), followed by Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. 


Wetland ecosystems for human health:

Management of wetlands to minimize human health risk is fraught with potential conflicts. Until at least the mid-twentieth century, wetlands were generally perceived as problem areas, as swamps suitable mainly for draining and filling for development or mosquito control. This view still persists in some areas. There is ‘‘a persistent negative view of wetland ecosystems held by the public in general and the public-health profession in particular’’. The theme of a Ramsar meeting in 2008, discussed in terms of human health and wetlands, and concluded with wetlands have both positive and negative impacts.

Health benefits will accrue to societies  in  general  and  individuals  in  particular  when products of wetlands can be used for pharmaceutical or other medicinal purposes. Wetland-associated animals,  fungi,  bacteria,  and  lower  plants  (algae), some of them living in extreme conditions, provide the most productive sources of new natural products. The medicinal qualities of these are a good example of  the  continued  value  of  traditional  knowledge  to health care today. Links between wetland biodiversity and human health should focus less exclusively on  the  obvious  (such  as  birds,  large  mammals,  or plants) and more on the “hidden biodiversity” (such as fungi and bacteria).

Negative health impacts may also be associated with constructed wetlands or wetlands polluted by pathogens, heavy metals or pesticides which pose a health risk particularly when human populations and their activities encroach on the habitats. Researchers found human enteropathogens (Cryptosporidium spp.) associated with constructed wetlands in Ireland; recently found concentrations of a variety of heavy metals in natural wetlands receiving wastewater in Rwanda which posed a health hazard for local people. Several parasites may be found in natural wetlands, especially in those that are degraded. Health  issues  for  wetland  ecosystems include  water  associated  illnesses, vector-borne diseases whose transmission depends on vector species that are inextricably linked to the aquatic environment. The link between safe drinking water and wetland ecosystem services is also easily perceived. Wetland ecosystems are settings that determine human health and well-being through a number of characteristic influences, such as:

             • a source of hydration and safe water;

            • a source of nutrition;

            • sites of exposure to pollution or toxicants;

            • sites of exposure to infectious diseases;

            • sites of physical hazards;

            • settings for mental health and psycho-social well-being;

            • places from which people derive their livelihood;

            • places that enrich people’s lives, enable them to cope and to help others; and

            • sites from which medicinal products can be derived

 These influences can either enhance or diminish human health depending on the ecological functioning of wetlands and their ability to provide ecosystem services. It is important to manage the negative risks associated with wetlands in order to conserve wetland values as well as retaining the value for human wellbeing. Many wetland related diseases are expanding their range and the disease transmission cycle may be accelerated simultaneously.