World Wetlands Day 2016: Sustainable Livelihoods

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World Wetlands Day 2016: Sustainable Livelihoods

One wetland, many uses: looking out on Anawilundawa lake

From shrimp farming, to providing lotus flowers, to acting as flood and filtering systems, wetlands are indispensable resources to achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals. With the theme of Wetlands for the Future: Sustainable Livelihoods in mind, this World Wetlands Day, IWMI showcases how communities interact with their wetlands every day.


Matthew McCartney 2016
“Wetlands are vital for peoples’ livelihoods but as the pressures of modern living grow they are increasingly under threat. In the context of sustainable development, IWMI is working with partners to better understand who uses wetlands, how they benefit from them, and how the vital services that they provide can be protected.”

Matthew McCartney, principal researcher in water resources, wetland and hydro-ecological studies at IWMI



Every morning, 67-year-old retired security officer Premadasa Jayawardane plucks flowers in the Anawilundawa wetlands of Sri Lanka. He walks around the wetlands in search of fresh lotus buds. The individuals and communities around Anawilundawa have a close connection with the wetlands, and the wetlands are a significant aspect of their daily lives. Premadasa lifts a flower from the waters. “I don’t sell the flowers,” he explains. “I give them to a few friendly shopkeepers in the town side. They offer the flowers to Buddha statues they keep in their shops. In return, they gift me calendars for the New Year and sometimes other rations.” Spanning 1,400 hectares, Anawilundawa is one of the 6 RAMSAR wetlands in Sri Lanka. Comprised of an ancient system of human-made cascading tanks and reservoirs and fed by flood waters of the Deduru Oya, Anawilundawa sustains rice paddy fields, wildlife, and natural vegetation. The tanks store water for irrigation, and also play a major role in flood control, aquifer recharge, retention of pollutants and sediments, and nutrient export. A fisherman rows into the distance on his boat. As in many wetlands, fishing is a source of living for inhabitants. Anawilundawa is home to a diversity of plants and animals, including 29 species of freshwater fish and 18 species of brackish water fish. Local people engage in subsistence fishery in Anawilundawa’s tanks. However, unchecked fisheries can also have a negative impact to the ecosystem. Wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments, providing a range of under-appreciated benefits for people's livelihoods and well-being. Malika Wijethunga, 65, stops by the lake to wash her feet after finishing her morning chores around the household. Her house stands just opposite facing Anawilundawa Lake. Malika explains that a lot of people come to this spot on the lake to have a bath or wash clothes. Dami’s friend Nimasha keeps her company while she washes clothes. Research by IWMI and others recognize that women and men use different wetland services for different purposes. Because of their many domestic responsibilities, women in many developing countries may depend more on wetlands on a daily basis, whilst sometimes also engaging in wetland-supported livelihoods. Research has also found that women are generally more supportive of measures for sustainable wetland use, possibly because of their daily dependence on numerous wetland services. January being the last month of a four-month shrimp harvesting season, shrimp harvester Danushka and his team put in all the effort to catch the last batch of shrimp from one of the tanks. They will start again in March. Although shrimp farming is a main source of income to people living around the sanctuary, it is also a point of contention. The wetlands of Anawilundawa remain an important resource in the livelihoods and food security of its local communities. The preservation of wetlands is essential for biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods, and marks the significance and relevance of wetlands in achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals. In the Anawilundawa wetlands, it is up to researchers, policy makers, government officials, and the local community to ensure the preservation of the wetlands for future generations.

Photo credit: Shaoyu Liu

Find out more:

Silva, E.I.L.; Katupotha, J.; Amarasinghe, O.; Manthrithilake, H.; Ariyaratne, R. 2013. Lagoons of Sri Lanka: From the origins to the present. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI). 116p.

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Categories : Highlights International Day News Special Feature Sri Lanka News

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World Wetlands Day 2016 :: IWMI

February 5, 2016at 2:12 pm

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