Wetlands – Nurturing communities and sustaining urban life

Valuing urban wetlands and human well-being


40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.

Wetlands play a significant role in supporting ecosystems and biodiversity, and they are deeply connected to human well-being. Although they cover only around 6 percent of the earth’s land surface, 40 percent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands; and about one in eight people on earth depend on wetlands for their livelihoods (United Nations, 2024). Despite the benefits for both the environment and communities, wetlands face critical threats due to anthropogenic influences and are the planet’s most threatened ecosystem. This World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to recognize the value of wetlands and to advocate for better conservation efforts.

Critical to environmental sustainability, wetlands sequester more carbon than any other ecosystem (NOAA, 2023), thereby mitigating climate change. They also buffer against climate change impacts and provide resilience against extreme weather events such as storm surges and flooding. Furthermore, they serve as vital habitats for diverse species, supporting fish, reptiles, migratory birds, and mammals.

Wetlands are essential for key municipal functions, naturally purifying water, controlling floods and supplying sustainable fresh water. They foster economic and livelihood activities like tourism, fisheries, and agriculture, contributing to the overall prosperity of communities around the globe. Based on their central life-sustaining role for so many communities, wetlands are cherished by communities worldwide, enhancing social well-being, offering recreational opportunities, holding deep cultural and spiritual significance, and fostering community well-being and resilience.

Despite their myriad benefits, these valuable ecosystems are under siege from pollution and habitat loss from land use change. In the last five decades, over 35% of wetlands have been lost, significantly jeopardizing the ecosystem services and benefits for plants, animals, and human communities. With urban populations expected to grow from 55% (current) to 68% by 2050, wetland ecosystems are considered the most threatened ecosystem (Ramsar. 2021).


Wetlands are essential for key municipal functions, naturally purifying water, controlling floods and supplying sustainable fresh water.

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There is an urgent need for drastic conservation efforts to protect these valuable ecosystems. 

For cities and regions, recognizing the relevance of wetlands in urban and environmental planning is paramount. Integrating wetland management goals into municipal planning, policies, and decision-making processes is necessary for sustainable development.

In 2023, CitiesWithNature partnered with the Ramsar Convention, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and ICLEI CBC to develop a poster and fact sheet on the value of wetlands for cities. These resources shed light on the functional benefits of wetlands in terms of water resources, climate regulation, livelihoods and poverty reduction, healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, job creation and upskilling, and culture, recreation and education. The poster intricately illustrates these processes, for example, how wetlands support urban heat mitigation by cooling surrounding areas and providing valuable spaces that bolster a region’s ability to adapt and withstand the adverse impacts of a changing climate. The fact sheet also provides useful recommendations on how cities can enhance and protect the benefits supplied by these vital ecosystems, such as conducting a stocktake of past and current wetlands management, developing integrated development plans and allocating appropriate budgets, and regulating land-use and development.

Given the critical role wetlands play in enhancing the quality of life for cities and communities, it is imperative that we recognize the value of wetlands, integrate wetlands protection into planning and policy agendas, and support active participation in conservation efforts and sustainable practices. World Wetlands Day serves as a call to action to secure a sustainable and resilient future for wetlands and the communities they support.