The wetlands of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are a global resource. They provide habitat for migratory birds from as far away as Siberia, support rich agricultural and wild biodiversity, and provide key services for communities both upstream and downstream, from flood control to nutrient and sediment retention to regional weather regulation.
These transitional ecosystems between terrestrial and aquatic habitats form the habitats of a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, plants and other organisms, many of them uniquely adapted to this environment and vulnerable to change.
Wetlands face multiple stresses, from pollution to over-extraction of resources to environmental change, including changes in land use and climate change. Local communities and even governments have tended to underestimate their significance, and large areas have been drained for agriculture, pastoralism and forestry.
Their significance, though, is vast. Wetlands are sometimes described as “the kidneys of the landscapes” because of their role in the hydrologic and chemical cycles. They also function as a storehouse of carbon in the form of peat. Peat lands are a type of wetland surrounding water bodies; filled with partly decomposed plant and animal remains, they store about 12 percent of the global soil carbon while using only three percent of the total land surface. Peat lands are a major sink of temporarily sequestered carbon and an archive of evidence about past climate conditions. In the Hindu Kush Himalayas, high-altitude peat lands occur in almost all regional member countries and represent at least a third of the region’s wetland resources. The degradation of peat lands could exacerbate the release of greenhouse gases, adding further challenges to global warming.