Reviving Degraded Wetlands in India’s North Bihar


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Kanwar Jheel is the largest in a series of 18 wetlands spread across the Ganges flood plains in India’s north Bihar. For generations, these wetlands have been the mainstay for this densely populated region, enabling families to farm the fertile soil and fish in nutrient-rich waters.

kanwar jheel, bihar

During the monsoon, when the River Burhi Gandak - a Ganges tributary - overflows its banks, the wetlands absorb the runoff, protecting this extremely flood-prone region. When the rains are over, the water shrinks to one tenth the size, exposing marshes and grasslands that create a mosaic of habitats for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

In winter, over 60 species of duck and waterfowl visit these wetlands on their annual migration routes along the Central Asian Flyway.

In the 1950s, however, embankments were built to contain the river’s regular flood cycle. This fragmented the wetlands, altered natural water flows, and impaired the flood control services they provided.
During the 1970s, the wetlands were drained for farming. Traditional seasonal plantings gave way to the year-round cultivation of water-guzzling crops, placing tremendous pressure on the ecosystem.

man on kanwar jheel 

No longer based on natural inundation, wetland farming has become highly dependent on ground water. As a result, water levels have depleted, the fish catch is down to a third of 1980s levels, and the number of visiting waterbirds has declined.
The shrinking resource base has jeopardized local livelihoods. Although Kanwar Lake became a bird sanctuary in 1989, frequent conflicts between farmers and fisherfolk have led many to move away as wage labor.

kanwar jheel birds

At the state government’s request, the World Bank conducted a study of the wetlands. The study has recommended the restoration of the wetlands’ natural hydrological regime by reconnecting the wetlands, and preventing artificial drainage. It has also advised that a comprehensive wetland inventory and monitoring system be put in place, biodiversity habitats be enhanced, sustainable culture fisheries be pursued and community livelihoods be diversified.


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February 03, 2018

Your blog further reinforces the fact that natural resources continue to provide opportunities to supplement incomes and act as a safety net for the poor and vulnerable. Nicely done.

February 03, 2018

Good analysis

February 05, 2018

A very useful analysis and review which will act as road map for water sector professionals to preserve these natural habitat to enhance biodiversity and local ecosystem

Naysa Ahuja
February 06, 2018

Comprehensive Wetland inventory and monitoring system has been long due in India. The efforts to conserve wetlands are either divided regionally or by project-specific agenda. WWF-India programs on Himalayan wetlands and migratory birds are great efforts, but we need to go beyond the list of wetlands recognized under Ramsar. With the new 2017 Wetland Rules notified by the GoI, States can be supported in many ways by the Bank interventions to conserve these valuable natural resources. Thanks for highlighting the issue and its gravity.

Srinivasa Rao Podipireddy
February 08, 2018

Very informative