The Metro Colombo Catchment Wetland Management Strategy (2016) identified Colombo’s wetlands as biodiversity rich with >250 plant and >280 animal species. This includes 9 nationally threatened and 11 near threatened flora, such as the tree climber Aganope heptaphylla, and 18 threatened and 18 near threatened fauna, such as the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). The strategy also determined that wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the 2.3 million people of Colombo, particularly the urban poor, with 60% of households directly benefiting from wetland livelihoods and products, such as fish and rice, and 100% receiving indirect benefits from flood protection, climate cooling and pest regulation.
However, despite the widespread benefits and unique biodiversity, Colombo‘s wetlands are being destroyed and degraded. Since the 1980s, 60% of the wetlands have been lost, largely through infilling. The current rate of loss is approximately 1.2% per annum which would result in half being lost by 2070. The wetlands currently provide flood protection for up to a 1 in 50 year flood. If all wetlands are lost, Colombo would experience a catastrophic flood, like that experienced in 2010 with flood damages equal to 1% of Colombo’s GDP, on average every year.
Wetlands are also being degraded through water and solid waste pollution. Currently, 64% of the wetland areas have bad or very bad water quality. Alien invasive species such as Annona glabra are also a significant threat to native biodiversity.
Wetland loss and degradation are threatening Colombo’s biodiversity and linked security of local livelihoods. Community groups (e.g. farmers, fishers), civil society and government have called for a catchment scale approach that: identifies and implements community best practices that maintain biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods; improves wetland monitoring to inform management and reduce flood risk; and establishes management and planning principles to enhance wetland resilience.
Internationally, there has been little focus on how urban wetland biodiversity supports local livelihoods and human well-being. In Metro Colombo, previous government agencies and CSO initiatives, most notably the Wetland Management Strategy 2016, highlight the urgency for a coordinated approach that focuses on community livelihood practices and monitoring. Thus, working in 19 communities across the Metro Colombo catchment, this project uses a highly participatory approach for identifying and strengthening community-led wetland management solutions, developing wetland monitoring and management principles to provide a catchment wide approach.
The project will link community initiatives and wetland management on the ground with government policy and practice. The project has been designed to deliver biodiversity conservation, household livelihoods and, human health and well-being improvements to secure the future for both wildlife and Colombo’s residents.
The project ran from September 2020 until July 2023.