Sri Lanka: What’s next now that Colombo’s an official Wetland City?
By Dr. Priyanie Amerasinghe
To conserve the vital green infrastructure, the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation’s Wetland Management Division developed the Wetland Management Strategy (WMS) in 2016. Now, with the help of the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI), who have been conducting wetland research in South Asia and Africa for years, Colombo has been honoured as one of the first 18 sites awarded the Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation. It is the only capital city selected.
And while the accreditation brings recognition and investment potential for green infrastructure, eco-tourism and economic development, it’s also associated with responsibilities.
First, Colombo will need to continue to prevent degradation of wetlands. Colombo’s wetlands are finite, and loss has run as high as 60 percent since the 1980’s. Colombo cannot spare the loss of any more of these valuable ecosystems. A cabinet moratorium on wetlands is an important milestone ordering the stoppage of land reclamation and destruction of wetlands. Now, Colombo must turn to green infrastructure for its ecosystem services. Beyond flood retention areas, wetlands also offer a vast number of ecological and livelihood benefits: food production, recreation, cultural heritage, and air and water quality regulation.
Second, the city is now doubly committed to its WMS – decision makers will have to consider both natural ecosystem and community impacts, integrating wetland values into urban development and wetland conservation. Adopting a strategy like this requires continued capacity building. Colombo will need to maintain its training of staff on wetland values,as well as identifying, empowering and securing local communities’ benefits from wetlands.
Finally, Colombo will have to justify retention of its accreditation in six years’ time. This means implementing systems that monitor and track progress. We contributed the Colombo case study to “Ramsar’s Good Practices Handbook for Integrating Urban Development and Wetland Conservation.” This global resource showcases actions taken to integrate urban development and wetland conservation.Colombo planners are already utilizing some of these best practices, implementing ecosystem-based master planning and frameworks for baseline surveys and mapping.