The theme of this year’s World Wetlands day focuses on wetlands as a source of freshwater. Worldwide we are facing a growing freshwater crisis that threatens people and our planet. We use more freshwater than nature can replenish, and we are destroying the ecosystem that water and all life depend on most – wetlands.
Noun: Land areas that are saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are found in every climate zone from arid regions to tropics and the artic.
Let’s take a look at one of the world’s most prominent type of wetland – peatlands!
Peatlands As a Source of Freshwater
Peatlands are wetlands with a thick water-logged soil layer made up of dead and decaying plant material. They represent half of the Earth’s wetlands.
Peatlands have the potential to be a great source of freshwater as they absorb heavy rainfall and release the water slowly, ensuring a supply of clean water throughout the year.
Millions of people depend on peatlands for food such as fishing, farming, or raising cattle. They also provide protection against flooding and contain contain twice as much carbon as the world’s forests!
Peatlands in Southeast Asia
In particular in Southeast Asia, efforts to preserve these peatlands have been ongoing for over 10 years. Prior to 2008, a peatlands in Malaysia called the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest had been illegally encroached by people in the surrounding area and turned into farms and settlements. This led to extensive fires and degradation. In mid-2008, enforcement actions were taken by the local authority to remove 470 individuals that were illegally intruding on the forest reserve and the agricultural crops that were illegally planted in the forest reserve removed.
The Global Environment Centre, an environmental NGO which advocates for sustainable management of peatland, partnered with the Selangor State Forestry Department (SSFD) to initiate a long term rehabilitation program to restore 1,000 hectares of the degraded peat area.
In addition to restoring some of the degraded area, these efforts have lead to the formation of the first registered Community Based Organisation on peatlands, the Friends of North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest, in 2012. The members were empowered to be the eyes and ears of the forest and are involved in the forest fire prevention, fire suppression, tree planting and eco-tourism activities. They have also set up a community nursery, raising more than 20,000 peat swamp seedlings and implemented seedling buy-back system.