What is the Role of the World Wetlands Day?
Unfortunately, simply signing a paper was insufficient for the protection of valuable wetland ecosystems. Many governments suggested wetlands for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance just to gain international prestige, without real commitment to the goals of the Convention on wetlands. In addition, as it was very difficult to fight the long established misconcept that wetlands have to be destroyed to provide more and more agricultural lands, the unsound agricultural practices which led to deterioration and destruction of wetlands continued both at the government and at the private sector levels. Nature conservationists had to prove with figures that society would benefit more from the protection of wetland ecosystems rather than from their destruction. However, no direct market price could be assigned to wetlands, therefore an alternative approach had to be undertaken to assign monetary value to the goods and services provided "for free" by wetlands. The proper functioning of wetlands was evaluated in terms of the important goods and services that wetlands provide to society (see Table 1 and Figure 24). This approach proved partially successful, as it convinced the high-level decision-makers, therefore governments started developing wetland restoration policies. Nevertheless, quite often the implementation of the wetland conservation and restoration strategies and projects met skepticism and the resistance of local communities. This resistance is manifested mainly when these policies imposed certain limitations on the wetlands resources, and especially in poor and developing countries, where the lack of finances does not afford for providing relevant compensation to the local people, who are very much dependent on the wetlands’ products.
However, economic valuation might not always be the most appropriate mechanism for assessing the value that a wetland may have: "[e]conomic and financial valuation is not a panacea" (Lambert, 2003). There are values other than economic that have to be considered when estimating the overall benefits that wetlands provide society – amongst these are scientific, educational, religious, cultural, and aesthetic values. The wetland may provide the only sanctuary to a highly threatened endemic species (Lambert, 2003), which in the future might turn out to have an enormous value, including economic. A good example of the latter is the case of the summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum L), a wetland plant that is a substrate for the production of the famous Nivalin® – a medicine discovered in Bulgaria and used to fight poliomyelitis (Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Group Ltd.).
To increase the awareness of government officials, farmers and the general public of the multiple values and functions of wetlands, as well as of the importance of wetlands for the conservation of the Earth’s biodiversity, February 2nd – the "birthday" of the Convention on Wetlands – was officially nominated the World Wetlands Day (WWD) in 1997. Ever since, the WWD is celebrated all over the world to promote the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
Figure 24 – Connections among wetland functions, uses and values (source – Turner et al., 2000, in Lambert, 2003).