Hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on wetlands for their livelihoods, such as fishing or farming. However, since 1900, experts say 64 percent of wetlands have disappeared. The rest are on the decline. To find a way to stop the destruction of wetlands, more than 800 delegates from 160 countries are meeting in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The meeting started on June first and will end on the ninth. The summit is the 12th meeting on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Dr. Christopher Briggs is the Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention. He says wetlands affect almost every part of people's lives.
"Wetlands are important to all of us because it is from wetlands that we have our fresh water for cooking, for eating, for washing. All our fresh water comes from wetlands."
Mr. Briggs adds that wetlands also clean and purify water and help to store carbon. He says that 660 million people around the world depend on wetlands because they earn a living from the aquaculture and the fishery industries.
Wetlands are a buffer to protect people from natural disasters.
"They're also critical for us in terms of disaster risk reduction – helping everyday people to protect their livelihoods and their homes against the impacts of rising sea level, of tsunamis and hurricanes."
He adds that the wetlands can buffer the impacts of both drought and flooding.
Besides providing resources for fishing, farming, water and fodder, wetlands are a place for recreation for millions of people.
"It is in wetlands that we spend our holidays – in beaches, in coastlines, in coral reefs, on mangroves, in lakes and rivers and ponds."
Mr. Briggs also says that wetlands are important for our future and for future generations.
About 40 percent of the remaining wetlands have faced destruction over the last 40 years. The decline continues at a rate of one and a half percent each year. Christopher Briggs says that is because people build their civilizations near wetlands.
"We have built agriculture. We have built houses, roads, cities on wetlands because it is easy for them to be drained."
Now, the world is facing a massive loss of wetlands. The World Wildlife Fund reports that 76 percent of the plant and animal species living in wetlands have been disappearing over the last 40 years.
Mr. Briggs compares the damage of wetlands to the loss of rainforest in Brazil and countries in Asia during the 1980s.
He adds that wetlands might face more serious destruction as the world's population increases. That number is expected to grow to more than nine billion by 2050.
Mr. Briggs says that people have only recently recognized the issue of the loss of wetlands. He says that there is a need to raise people's awareness on the issue of wetland protection.
People, Mr. Briggs adds, need to know that the wetlands are as important as rainforests because they have similar functions.
The wetlands help protect the earth from the effects of climate change. They store huge amounts of carbon and prevent the carbon from entering the atmosphere.
Peatlands, for example, are areas of partially decayed vegetation and other organic matter. They cover three percent of the land's surface. But they capture twice as much carbon as all the world's forests.
I'm Mario Ritter.