Late last year I had the opportunity to visit Baikka Beel, Srimongal, Bangladesh. Beels are essentially shallow lakes, a number of which can more-or-less converge and cover large areas. Baikka Beel, and its neighbouring beels, cover an area of approximately 100 hectares.
It was great to hear the stories of how the fishers are protecting the beel, a wildlife sanctuary, and how institutions and mechanisms have been supported from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure the fisher’s livelihoods are protected. In Bangladesh, this issue of protection of livelihoods and the protection of the beels is a significant one, not only because of the importance of beels to landscapes more generally, but also because of the ways local communities are intrinsically connected to their beels and are reliant on them for livelihood and food security.
These types of pressures are not only in Bangladesh however. Wetlands around the world are under threat – from over-fishing, from development pressures such as draining for housing/land reclamation, from climate change and from re-routing rivers for irrigation (to name some pressures). Dominant ideas of wetlands as ‘waste-lands’ don’t help at all.
So as we head towards World Wetlands Day on 2nd February, a celebration of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands – the Ramsar Convention – let’s not forget the importance of these places, not only ecologically, but socio-culturally.