Son Beel Wetland Assam: A Wing of Hope
Courtesy by Moharana Choudhury
Germany has published a research paper titled ‘Valuation of Ecosystem Services & Benefits of Son Beel Wetland in Assam, India.’ In its annual conference which on Climate Change 2020 that held in March. The study estimated the Son Beel’s monetary value from a minimum of $88/Hectare/Year to a maximum of $29,716/Hectare/Year. Researchers reiterate that Son Beel has all prominent potential to be designated as a Ramsar Site of ‘Wetlands of International Importance.’
Mesmerizing Son Beel:
Son Beel, which is popularly known as Shon Beel, is situated near Ramkrishna Nagar Town and a circle area in Assam’s Karimganj district. It is the second-largest seasonal wetland in Asia and the largest wetland in Assam. During the lean season, it offers a highly productive soil for agriculture, particularly rice cultivation. It holds an enormous amount of water that overflows during the rainy season because of the less depth of the beel. The Beel water confluence to Kushiara River and it drains in Bangladesh through Kakra River, making Son Beel a significant waterway. More than 50 country boats ply every day on regular transport service. 9 Gram Panchayats encircle Son Beel directly and double the number along the inlet and towards the outlet. The inlet and outlet of Son Beel are River Shingla, which has the origin in Manipur. The Beel occupies a diversity of fish species, including its specialty Bhujia fish.
Three researchers from a common background of Environmental Science; Deepak Kumar, an Environment Officer, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India, Moharana Choudhury, Environmentalist, Researcher & active member Voice of Environment (VoE), Guwahati, Assam & Ashok Rathore, Biohm Consultant Private Ltd, Surat, Gujarat along with the filed photography expert Mr. Rahul Choudhury from Silchar, Assam have contributed to evaluating monetary value of Son Beel Wetland ecosystem. This study was conducted from January 2016 to December 2018. The research study adopted the ‘The Economics of Ecosystem & Biodiversity’ Model for the valuation of ecosystem services and benefits of Son Beel. Deepak Kumar reiterates,” Son beel wetland is facing a serious ecosystem marginalization where ecosystem services have not been priced and reflected in decision making and which proves complete market failure. Agriculture yield from transformed/converted/encroached lake does not reflect values lost due to flood protection, fisheries, biodiversity etc. People who degrade are not the same whose livelihoods are affected leading to continued deterioration of wetland. Wetland governance has been ineffective to address sectoral policies providing incentives lead to wetland depletion.”
Environmentalist and Researcher Moharana Choudhury speak out about how locals are interlinked for their livelihoods. “More than 300 families depend on income from Boat Services for six months. Similar number of families is engaging in Boat Making Factory in a form of rural artisans.” Mr. Choudhury stated.
Researcher Ashok Rathore worked on the GIS aspect of Son Beel wetland.
Field photography expert Mr. Rahul Choudhury contributed to photography during the field study and survey.
While discussing how researchers have done a monetary valuation, Deepak Kumar explains,” Son Beel offers diversity of ecosystem services which comprise provisioning, regulating, supportive and cultural services. Most of the research on ecosystem valuation consider used values in general which is directly or indirectly regulated by market prices. We adopted ‘Dollor ($) Based Ecosystem Valuation’ with having three significant approaches estimating values of ecosystem services and benefits in dollor. Each approach is based on three different paradigms. First one is based on market prices having revealed willingness to pay. Second one is adopted according to circumstantial evidence which is an imputed willingness to pay. And last one is based on survey which is an expressed willingness to pay.”
This research paper discloses the latent economy of Son Beel wetland. It could have been a substantial source of revenue generation for the State Government. The Beel acts as strategic waterways for six months during the rainy period, which explores tremendous opportunities for Boat Transport Services and local artisans in boat making. Rest of the year, the Beel offers fertile soil for rice cultivation and vegetables. Son Beel has abundant biodiversity consisting of a wide range of fish species. It’s a paradise for several migrant species of birds.
Ecosystem Services and Benefit:
Son Beel offers multiple ecosystem services to the locals residing in proximity to the wetland regime. These services are categorized as; provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services. Those benefits & products obtained from wetlands as a prior life and livelihood support such freshwater, food, fiber, fuel; genetic resources, biochemical, natural medicines & pharmaceuticals are part of provisioning services. Regulating services include those benefits obtained from the regulation of the ecosystem services, likewise Water regulation, Erosion regulation, Water purification, Waste regulation, Climate & natural hazards regulation (e.g., Floods, Storms & droughts). Cultural services include non-material benefits people obtain from wetlands through spiritual enrichment. Cognitive development, reflection, recreation & aesthetic experiences, cultural diversity, knowledge systems, educational values, social relations, sense of place, cultural heritage & ecotourism. Supporting services include those that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. The beneficial impacts of such ecosystem services are indirect, likewise primary production, water cycling & nutrient cycling, etc.
The State Government has sanctioned 50 lakhs rupees for the all-round development of the site in October 2020. “Since our research work has been reaching at State Government via different sources, the State Government has started working to develop Son Beel wetland as one of the picturesque tourist hotspots in Assam. We pledge the State Government to send proposal for designating it a Ramsar Site of ‘Wetlands of International Importance’ and we are hopeful that this pertinent wetland proves fair on 9 critical criteria of Ramsar Convention for being designated as an International site.” Mr. Moharana Choudhury Says.
However, Ratabari MLA K. Mallah during 2018 and present MP Karimgaj once said the State Government had sent a proposal to the Union ministry of tourism for the all-round development of Son Beel. The estimated expenditure is Rs 400 Crore, and funds under the Swadesh Darshan scheme will be allocated soon. This Swadesh Darshan Scheme was launched in 2015 to integrate a theme-based tourist circuit in the country. The Government should come out with a disclosure whether this fund has been granted or turned down. This wetland has a strategic geopolitical significance because it bordered Bangladesh. State Government shall work on Son Beel wetland’s integrated development, which will align livelihoods opportunities to many local inhabitants.
Wings of Hope:
Agenda 2030 provides a broader roadmap for national and international policy action for governments, civil society, private sector & other State/Non-State actors to achieve SDGs for our present & future generations. Son Beel provides a wide range of natural capital flow in terms of ecosystem services for the life & livelihood of people & community. Son Beel could have been developed into important tourism as well as a research destination in Assam. We need to ensure that wetland conservation, wise use, and restoration are an integral part of SDGs’ planning & implementation. Integrating wetlands services and benefits in Nationally Determined Contributions for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is critical for achieving SDGs. Placing a value on nature’s ecosystem services shouldn’t be misconstrued as ‘putting a price on nature. This situation is the right time for the Government to set up wetland governance to protect, conserve & restore wetlands in the State for ensuring a climate-resilient & water surplus future. We have been going through the most existential crisis of evolutionary history. We can survive only against covid-19 or another pandemic risk by restoring, rejuvenating, and restructuring our natural ecosystem to become healthier and resilient.