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World Wetland Daze

February 4, 2013


Indian shoreline

Indian shoreline in the beach state Goa


2 February each year is World Wetlands Day. It 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.

2013 is the UN International Year for Water Cooperation and an ideal opportunity for Ramsar to look at the connection between water and wetlands. To read on please click here.

Significance this year:

This is my first year in New York city to witness the wrath of a natural disaster in the form of hurricane Sandy. I was here at the time of hurricane Irene too, however all of us were lucky as the hurricane Irene just touched base in 2011 and left.

The announcement of NY’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed spending of as much as $400 million to purchase homes wrecked by Hurricane Sandy, have them demolished and then preserve the flood-prone land permanently, as undeveloped coastline could not have been more timely.

The underlying of this proposal is to keep the land untouched from development and develop buffer zones in the form of wetlands and greener shores. For ages, wetlands have been considered to be a shield against the extreme oceanic events. We saw that during the tsunami in India, Japan and now in NYC.

A new report issued last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analyzes and estimates this risk for the climate change era, in which melting ice and rising temperatures are fueling the oceans up with even more potential energy. Warmer oceans mean more active and extreme weather systems, and when combined with the tide line creeping up, that means more danger to cities and coastal populations. Tide line increase also means that more frequent events on smaller scale shall have the capacity to cause more destruction than predicted by the present climate models.

The report sheds some light on the increased risks and costs of having dense populations in coastal zones in an era of climate change and rising sea-level. Some highlights are:

  • 634 million people worldwide live in low-elevation coastal zones
  • Coastal zones contributed more than $8.3 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2011.
  • Many nuclear power plants are located on the coast. In California, we have San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. In New York and New Jersey, they have Indian Point and Oyster Creek.
  • The total cost for Sandy in New York and New Jersey is estimated at over $71 billion.
  • City sanitation systems and transportation systems are particularly vulnerable to flooding. This means sewage spills and submarine subway tunnels.

Cost benefit analysis:

The people are reluctant to leave their houses, community, friends and go elsewhere, no matter how much the compensation is in store. People in New York city are contemplating as to what will happen to their properties and rents if they have to move elsewhere. For most coastal towns, it is known that the closer you are to the shore, the pricier your property/the higher your rent is. Experts also claim that mitigation is less costlier than adaptation.

What could we do?

A little effort goes a long way.

  • Celebrate Earth hour everyday for sometime in your households
  • use public transportation as much as you can
  • switch off all power intensive gadgets and appliances at home

This is onus on all of us for our survival and especially for those who live close to or on the shorelines.


This article is an adaptation of the articles, which appeared in NYTimes, NRDC’s Switchboard and Ramsar Convention’s website. Please visit the websites to read the detailed articles and to verify the data and stats.

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