The wetlands we see today in Colombo are remnants of once an extensive system of marshes on which the city was built by gradually filling and draining it. The last three to four decades have been the worst, with much of the wetland areas in Colombo being eaten up due to unwise and unplanned urban development. What remains today is absolutely important for maintaining quality of life in the city in many ways.
In Colombo, the wetlands are the most important defence against floods. Even with expensive improvements made to draining, without the wetlands the city would experience devastating impacts of floods.
Colombo by nature is a hot, humid, tropical city. However, it has been shown by research that parts of the old city (which has lost its wetlands completely) are much hotter than the rest that still hosts significant wetland areas. Hence, they help the city fight the burgeoning heat that is getting worse with climate change.
Life in Colombo can be stressful with traffic, heat and congestion – wetlands provide some respite against this stress by creating visually pleasing sightlines in a landscape that would otherwise have been dominated by a concrete jungle, providing recreational opportunities and breathing some freshness into the city. The wetlands also act as the lungs of Colombo, because they clean up polluted water and air, which the Government would otherwise have to do artificially incurring great costs.
Wetlands also provide some of the most beautiful landscapes. In Colombo, they add so much natural beauty to the city landscape with green areas and waterfronts and help break the monotony of endless built up areas. They provide great opportunities to be close to nature without leaving the city which is simply amazing.
I live adjacent to a wetland and often spend time viewing it and its bird life from my home. I also use the walking tracks that have been built adjacent to wetlands such as paddy fields and lakes and visit the recently opened wetland parks with my family whenever time permits. I feel that more and more people are beginning to appreciate wetlands. Formal access is helping to encourage people to interact with them by using walking tracks, wetland parks and wetland bird information.
About 50% of the wetland areas in and around Colombo city are paddy fields providing us with our staple diet, rice. In addition, many varieties of vegetables and herbs that form an essential part of the Sri Lankan menu are grown in wetlands. There is even fishing taking place at a subsistence level, although buying fish in the market commercially is not totally out of option.
Wetlands are a life source in this city so they are very important and place Colombo in a unique situation.