The Economic Values of the World’s Wetlands

Posted on January, 31 2004

This publication gives a comprehensive overview of the economic importance of wetlands and the need to preserve them
Wetlands are ecosystems that provide numerous goods and services that have an economic value, not only to the local population living in its periphery but also to communities living outside the wetland area. Furthermore, wetlands also provide recreational opportunities and amenities, and flood control and storm buffering.

Threats to wetlands

Wetlands are often perceived to have little or no value compared to other uses of its lands and water that may yield more visible and immediate economic benefits. Some of the uses that threaten wetlands are:
* drainage for irrigation and agriculture
* as a source of drinking water
* using the wetlands waters for electricity generation
* human settlements
* dredging sediments and exploiting mineral resources
* intensive harvesting of wetland goods

As a consequence, wetlands all over the world are continually modified and reclaimed at great cost. Since, 1900 more than half the world's wetlands have disappeared. The root cause of much wetland degradation is information failure - decision-makers often have insufficient understanding of the values of wetlands, including the economic value, so the protection of wetlands does not appear to be a serious alternative.

$ 70 billion worth of freshwater resources

WWF has published a report, The Economic Values of the World's Wetlands, as the first comprehensive overview of the economic values of the world's wetlands. It analyzes the 89 existing valuation studies and uses a database covering a wetland area of 630,000 km², putting the annual value of wetlands at a very conservative US$3.4 billion. However, extending this figure using the Ramsar Convention's global wetland area estimate of 12.8 million km², the annual global value of wetlands would be US$70 billion.

A powerful argument to preserve wetlands

These estimates are intended to clarify for policy makers that wetlands are economically valuable biomes that provide goods and services upon which many communities and economies depend. Recognizing the economic importance of wetlands in addition to their biodiversity, scientific value, climate regulation, potential tourism, socio-cultural and other important wetland values (that were not included in the calculations in this study) is yet another good reason to reverse global wetland loss.