This blog is part of a series of discussions and activities organized by the World Bank South Asia Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy team to inform a Green recovery in the region.
It’s six in the morning and the breaking dawn lights up the wetland before us. The buzz of city sounds has faded away and all we can hear are the alluring melodies of nature’s chorus - a cry of a purple swamp hen and a splash in the water by an elusive wetland creature. These are the sights and sounds residents living around Talangama lake wake up to each morning.
Steeped in history, the lake is believed to have been built in the 15th century, as a place to bath elephants in the royal army. Now, it is part of the Talangama Environment Protected Area.
For wildlife enthusiasts, it’s a birding haven. For poor farmers, the lake is a source of life that enables paddy cultivation, an ancient practice which dates to the Kotte Kingdom.Further,
Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands.These wetlands host an array of plants and animals, including the endangered fishing cat and otter.
During the last 30 years an estimated 40% of the wetlands in Colombo has been lost due to direct and indirect impacts of urbanization.
They continue to be lost at an estimated rate of 1.2 % per year.
Although Talangama, like other wetlands, is threatened by the pressures of urbanization, it is heartening to see a sense of community stewardship among its residents who have taken it upon themselves to safeguard the lake and its surroundings.
MCUDP set a good practice example of how urban wetlands serving multiple uses can be wisely managed using a transdisciplinary approach. Engineering and environmental sciences were combined with strong stakeholder engagement to strike a balance between irrigation, flood mitigation and wetland conservation goals.This work financed by
By identifying patches of invasive vegetation while leaving adequate areas undisturbed for wetland inhabitants, the project demonstrated how the wetlands’ capacity to store water and absorb floods could be carried out in an environmentally friendly manner. Two years after lake dredging was completed, avid bird watchers Sanjiv De Silva and Vimukthi Weeratunga who frequent Talangama for birding trips said that wetland avi-fauna has rebounded strongly with a healthy diversity of species being observed.
In 2018, Colombo was declared the first capital to be accredited as an International Wetland City by Ramsar.
The MCUDP has been implementing flood mitigation interventions in Colombo since 2012. It has set a benchmark in integrating green and grey infrastructure for flood mitigation in the Sri Lankan capital and demonstrated beyond any doubt that wetlands in Colombo are fundamental to the well-being of its people. The wetland management strategy, prepared in 2018 by the MCUDP, elucidated the intricate connections between these wetlands and the well-being of the people of Colombo.
Back at Talangama, we have spotted 22 varieties of birds. Some community members have finished their morning walks, cleaning up the lake and collecting trash. The shallow waters are now awash with open bills and purple swamp hens, their unique blue and green hues glinting in the morning sun, while the lesser whistling teals swim about in the shallow water without a care in the world. A pair of water cocks are happily moving about in the shallow grass. A pied kingfisher takes to air and dives into the water to catch a meal with almost acrobatic precision.
We bid adieu to this beautiful place with the hope of returning soon.