Major Transboundary Park established in Southeastern Europe


Declaration on the Creation of the Prespa Park and the Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Lakes and their Surroundings

At World Wetlands Day ceremonies in Agios Germanos during which establishment of the Prespa Park was announced, splendid speeches were made by the three Prime Ministers, the deputy minister in the Government of Greece, and the Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands. And here they all are, in English translations provided by the Society for the Protection of Prespa and the Government of Greece. (This will be the first opportunity for Ramsar's Secretary General to get a good grasp on what was going on, since his interpretation earphones were not working during the ceremonies.)

Address by His Excellency Mr Ilir Meta, Prime Minister of Albania

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Dear Mr. Prime Ministers,

It is a great pleasure for me to greet, on behalf of the Government of Albania, today's meeting with the participation of the three Prime Ministers of the respective countries. We have gathered here today to discuss a joint initiative of a transboundary ecological habitat of the Ohrid and Prespa Lakes in the framework of the Stability Pact.

The environmental dimension of this initiative compels us to tackle with priority problems of environment protection in our region, problems which therefore require regional solutions.

The all-round process of reconstruction of Southeastern Europe, in the framework of the Stability Pact, offers us the right opportunity to integrate our environmental concerns in such sectors as economic development and infrastructure. In this respect, such an initiative should be viewed as a commitment of our governments, people and countries getting closer It is a sign of our mutual endeavors for boosting the economic development and similarly preserving our common natural resources.

In this regard, a particular importance should be given to our joint effort in taking concrete steps for a sustainable exploitation of such natural resources which are unique not only for the region but to the world as well. The Government of Albania would like to express its firm belief that the regional cooperation in the field of the environmental protection, in particular among neighboring states, would benefit the citizens and the environment of the respective countries as well as will certainly contribute to the achievement of the Stability Pact goals, which are related to the democratization, economic development, and security of the region.

We are all aware of the local and international importance of this region, which has scientific, ecological, cultural and tourist values. We are conscious of the need for quick-impact intervention with the view of recuperating losses in biodiversity, extinction of various species, deforestation, and soil infertility.

The protection and the exp1oitation of this region bearing precious natural treasures and with such a rich diversity should be considered as part of the world’s natural and cultural heritage.

This requires an integrated protection of the soil and water ecosystems in the basin of the three lakes, by establishing joint coordinating mechanisms and by undertaking joint regional measures.

By duly estimating the great natural and biological values of the area, the Government of Albania approved February 1999 a decree declaring the Albanian part of the Prespa Lakes National Park whereas the Ohrid Lake was declared "Protected land and water territory". Hence, the Albanian National Park of Prespa, being considered as an extension of the Galicica and Prespa Parks, provides a land protection of these transboundary lakes

We are confident that the involvement of the Albanian side in the regional development policies will increase the efforts to protect and restore this ecosystem, it will serve as a starting point for a sustainable development of the region Through the establishment of an economic and ecological pattern, through scientific research, monitoring of the species and increase of population awareness, we believe that we can achieve a lot.

The development of tourism constitutes an important economic element for the entire region which should be supported by measures aiming at the preservation of the natural and historic heritage of the area.

To achieve this goal, it is more than necessary for us to take decisive steps for the rehabilitation of infrastructure, boosting of activities such as the fruit-tree cultivation, ecological agriculture, etc. Also, the undertaking of the required hydro studies in the region of Prespa and the implementation of well-thought plans, would improve significantly the biodiversity in the region.

We are fully aware of the specifics of our respective countries; however, it is more than required that we join our efforts in supporting our common interest for the safeguarding and recuperation of the unique ecological values of the region.

The Government of Albania, in cooperation with the governments of your countries, will engage itself in the implementation of sustainable policies which target the development and the protection of this area.

Finally, allow me to, once more, reiterate the commitment of my Government which is in line with the whole process of the reconstruction of Southeastern Europe, to join efforts with your countries and build a better future for ourselves and the generations to come.

The efforts made and the actions taken by the Government of Albania and your countries in the ecological field aiming at securing a safer environment both at national and regional level, should provide the ground for the establishment of a well-defined regional transboundary cooperation in other fields as well.

 Address by His Excellency Mr Costas Simitis, Prime Minister of Greece

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Prime Minister Mr. Georgievski,
Prime Minister Mr. Meta,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Greece is today in a privileged position as far as her development and her position in the broader economic and political map of the Balkans are concerned

The positive course of the Greek economy, just a few months before Greece's accession to the EMU, constitutes a guarantee for her stable and continuing development. At the same time, Greece's presence as a member state of the European Union in the Southern Balkans, is a point of reference to the stability and cooperation, aiming at the peaceful coexistence and reconstruction of the region.

With the firm conviction that the development of my country as well as that of the broader region must be compatible with the need for improvement of the real standard of living and the quality of life, Greece is planning her course based on the principles of sustainable development. These principles provide for the parallel and equal fulfillment of requirements in the spheres of economic progress, of the protection of environment, of natural processes, of ecosystems, as well as that of social justice. In any case, the observance of these principles constitutes the fundamental duty of all member states of the Union, after the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam.

The exceptional importance of the region for the environment is well known and acknowledged globally in the framework of international treaties. Yet, beyond its pure environmental importance, Prespa is a meeting point between three countries and a crossroads of cultural exchanges.

Thanks to the love of its inhabitants for the region and their dedication to the preservation of their unique cultural and environmental characteristics, Prespa constitutes today an example of a protected environment and cultural heritage that is worthy of imitation. I would like to underline the consistent and constant cooperation between the Non-Governmental Environmental Organizations involved, and in particular, the Society for the Protection of Prespa, with the inhabitants of the region throughout the years, that resulted in Prespa being honored with the Ramsar award of 1999 as a distinct example of the protection of a wetland through cooperation at local, national and international level.

In recognition of these particular characteristics and of the opportunity that is given to us to set into action a sustainable development, Greece, in a joint effort with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, decided to establish the First Transborder Protected Region in the Balkans under the name of "the Prespa Park".

Today's Declaration foresees the close cooperation between our three countries as well as the careful management and the protection of the natural resources of the region, in such a way as to secure its unique environmental and cultural characteristics.

In this framework a provision for a concrete Programme of Action that can be materialized immediately has been made and officials from our three countries will closely cooperate in this respect

In the framework of the activities for the operation of the Balkan Park of Prespa, I would like today to announce the establishment of a Multinational Educational and Research Centre for the study and observation of the ecosystem and other environmental parameters. This center is created due to a Greek initiative in the framework of the application of the provisions for the environment as foreseen by the Third Community Support Framework, and it is expected to form a focus of gathering and diffusing of scientific knowledge and information for the region, thus presenting also opportunities for employment for young people.

The Multinational Educational and Research Centre of the Balkan Park of Prespa will be created in the location of the old fish-farming station of Prespa, which is no longer in operation, and will absorb allocations in the amount of 500 million drachmas.

Finally, I would like to underline the symbolic gesture that will accompany today's Declaration of our three countries for the creation of the Prespa Park:

In the framework of the "Living Planet" campaign, which is promoted by a reliable and internationally acclaimed Non-Governmental Environmental Organization, the World Wide Fund for Nature, we are offering, in a joint effort, this initiative as a "Gift to the Earth". These "gifts" constitute concrete obligations by governments, other organizations and individuals, who contribute to the protection of our planet, and, to date, they amount to 48. The creation of this first transborder protected region in the Balkans, which we are establishing today, is of a profoundly symbolic nature and emphasizes the dedication of our three countries to the principle of peaceful coexistence, aiming at a development that respects the human being and the environment. It is a gesture which expresses, in practice, our decision to secure a better future for the generations to come.

 Address by His Excellency Mr Ljubco Georgievski, Prime Minister of the FYR of Macedonia

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Distinguished Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to greet you expressing my pleasure that today, February the second, when we mark the World Wetlands Day, we have an occasion where the three Prime Ministers of the countries most directly interested in the survival of the natural environment as a whole, can elaborate on this very sensitive topic. Because if we do not do this, we shall not be able to notice when the water from the lakes and rivers disappear, when the air and the soil become unsuitable for living. We shall not notice when the human being destroys the healthy base of life, cutting our own future. Thus I shall not mention the significant dates determined by the United Nations for marking the fields significant for the protection of the human environment, but I shall indicate the necessity to create a "planetary patriotism", strengthen together the ecological activities and to avoid the disastrous consequences that are threatening us.

This date is officially celebrated in the Republic of Macedonia since 1995 when we became contractual party to the Convention on Protection of the Wetlands of International Importance for the protection of the waterbirds.

Until now, we have nominated only one wetland for the World Ramsar List, the Prespa Lake with its coast, the wetlands of the location Ezarani. There have been a number of scientific research projects implemented for the valorization of the natural values of this ornithological locality and wider of the Prespa Lake as part of the world natural heritage. The results of these have been presented at regional and international gatherings. We, also, as Government with our Ministers of Environment Protection and Science, participate actively in the work of the meetings held in our country in Oteshovo and Skopje. And since 1995, namely since accession to the Ramsar Convention, our state delegation participated at the 6th and 7th International Conferences in Brisbane, Australia, and San José, Costa Rica, where our national reports on the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the Republic of Macedonia were presented.

As a full member of this Convention we participated actively at the Third Pan-European Conference on Wetlands Protection in Europe held in Riga, Latvia. Our national report with activities executed for the protection of the wetlands and on biological diversity was presented at the Conference with a particular accent on the inter-state and cross-border cooperation.

Also significant to mention is our membership in the Mediterranean Regional Organization on the Protection of Wetlands. Our official representatives from the Ministry of Environment Protection and the National Ramsar Committee have participated at the two regional meetings of this Committee in Salonica in 1998 and Valencia, Spain, in 1999.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although we have problems in securing finances for the economic development of our state, we as a Government are seriously approaching the ecological issues. In this context the government Work Program for the last year included a number of ecological projects and tasks. I would like to stress in particular the ones on revitalization of the wetlands of the Dojran, Prespa and Ohrid Lakes, of the few wetland localities along the Vardar River, and the adaptation of the building at the Asamati village in the frames of the Strict Natural Reservation Ezerani and its establishment as an international ornithological center.

The Macedonian Government in cooperation with the European Union and the Action Fund of EURONATUR prepared a Draft-Protocol for the cooperation between the Governments of the Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Albania, and the Republic of Greece and the establishment of a cross-border biosphere reserve in the region of the Ohrid, Prespa and the Small Prespa Lakes, which has been submitted of consideration to the Governments of our neighbors.

I consider it important to mention the meeting of the Regional Workshop on Protection of Natural Ecosystem Entities of the Balkans in the frames of the NATURA 2000 known as Balkan Green Belt organized in Otesbovo in November last year.

A consensus has been achieved for the first time at the workshop on determining the Balkan Green Belt including the natural complexes extending through the territories of the Balkan states. Besides mountain and forest complexes, this belt includes ecosystems of river and lake wetlands with cross-border significance.

The Government work program for this year includes a number of tasks and. legal projects in the effort to put under protection our most significant wetlands for which corresponding studies have been already prepared. We shall also support the activities of the national Ramsar Committee and the organization of a regional scientific symposium on overall protection of the Prespa Lake (Large Prespa) and the Small Prespa Lake to be held in June this year in our country in Oteshovo.

In the frame of the international campaign for protection of the wetlands and the living world, on the occasion of the World Wetlands Day a number of activities and events are underway in our country. Currently at international level we have the winter census of birds on the Prespa Lake organized by the Society for study and bird protection of Macedonia and the National Ramsar Committee.

The National Ramsar Committee in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment Protection shall organize the Official Session marking the World Wetlands Day this year too. The results in implementing the Ramsar Convention and the program tasks of the Committee of last year shall be presented.

As Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, I express my pleasure with the proposed Declaration on the organization of the Prespa Park, the protection of the natural environment and sustainable development of the two lakes and their surrounding.

Please allow me once again to wish your governments and states successful implementation of the Ramsar Convention as well as of other international documents on sustainable development of the wetlands. And I invite you to participate in the ecological activities in the years of ecology protecting the nature and the wetlands because by violating the law and destroying nature we destroy ourselves, as we ourselves are the nature.

Address by Mr Theod. Koliopanos, Deputy Minister of Environment, Planning, and Public Works, Greece

Prime Ministers,
Your Eminence
Colleagues at the Parliament and the Government
Dear Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

The 2nd of February, the day that the Convention on the conservation of wetlands was signed in 1971 in Iran, has been established as the World Wetlands Day. Its objective is the promotion of public awareness and sensitization on wetlands, their multiple values and the need for their protection.

Greece is the 7th state that has ratified the Ramsar Convention, putting it into effect in 1975. Eleven Greek wetlands have been included in the list of wetlands of international importance (Ramsar list). It must however be noted that in Greece approximately 400 wetlands have been recorded.

Until some decades ago, some wetland types such as marshes, reedbeds, and wet meadows were considered as a curse and the cradle of diseases (especially malaria) that humans had to drain in order to make room for plantations, settlements, factories, etc. The result of such a perception was that the immense wetland areas were drained and deteriorated in the entire world including Greece.

Nowadays, wetlands are considered as a gift and an invaluable economic, social and natural capital. Any further loss must be avoided while efforts must be made for the rehabilitation of the wetlands that were lost. I here mention the example of the rehabilitation of the Karla Lake by the Ministry of Environment, Planning, and Public Works.

Today we know that taking out one of the ingredients of an ecosystem usually interrupts a chain of natural processes that keep the system in balance, often to be followed by its collapse. The occurrence of the destruction or degradation of wetlands is global and it can be attributed principally to the ever-increasing human demands for freshwater, energy production, fisheries and stockbreeding and to pollution. In the Mediterranean region the degradation of wetlands, especially of coastal ones, is also due to the booming development of tourism.

In 1990 the continued degradation of Greek wetlands led the Conference of the Parties of the Ramsar Convention to include the 11 Greek sites in the list of Wetlands with Serious Management Problems [Montreux Record]. From 1990 onwards, in the framework of the implementation of the 5th Programme of Action for the Environment of the European Union, our country has started to undertake measures for counteracting the threats to the Greek sites.

Wetlands have been delineated, protection areas were established within which restrictions to land uses and human activities are imposed, Special Environmental Studies for all the Ramsar sites have been prepared, and through the dialogue with the local communities the preparation of Presidential Decrees for the characterization of Ramsar sites as National Parks is being completed. Finally, through the signing of Programme Agreements we have established in all Ramsar sites preliminary Management Schemes and two months ago we have established by Law the creation of definitive Management Bodies in the form of Private Legal Entities with the participation of the Local Authorities and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

This effort did not bring about the same positive results in all sites.

In the Prespa area during the last ten years important progress has been achieved in the direction of the protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage.

This can be largely attributed to the presence and action of the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP), which is supported by important Greek and International NGOs and especially the World Wide Fund for Nature, known as WWF, the collaboration with the Region of W. Macedonia, the Prefecture of Florina, the Municipality of Prespa and the proper use of Community funds and programmes.

In the Prespa area during the period 1994-1999 an important and multidisciplinary programme of a total budget of 4.1 billion Drachmas was implemented, funded by National and Community funds. The aim of the works and interventions was the protection, conservation and interpretation of the ecosystem and the cultural monuments, and at the same time the support of productive activities. This effort will be continued and intensified through the 3rd Community Support Framework. Especially in the fields of Tourism, Agriculture, and Environment, the Operational Programmes of the W. Macedonia Region have a total budget of 6 billion Drachmas for the area of Florina-Pisoderi-Prespa.

The result of this concerted effort was the exemption of Prespa from the list of wetlands of international importance that are in danger of degradation in the framework of the Ramsar Convention, and also the international Ramsar award offered to SPP for the work it has offered.

Prime Ministers,

Your presence here today at this edge of the European Continent, on the initiative of the Greek Prime Minister, proves our will for peaceful coexistence and collaboration, and the decision of our peoples to build on the elements that unite us.

The protection of the Natural and Cultural Environment with the simultaneous support of the productive activities is probably the best field for such a collaboration.

The establishment today of the First Transboundary Protected Area in Southeastern Europe with the name "Prespa Lakes Park" by three states with different civilizations, religions, and socio-economic systems, show that there is still a vision and the possibility for initiatives that can and should be imitated in other parts of the Balkans and Europe. And finally there is a symbolic as well as a substantial value in offering today's initiative as a "Gift to the Earth" within the global campaign of WWF

It is certain that Greece cannot be considered as a leader in environmental protection within the European Union. The last few years, however, besides what I have already mentioned before in the field of wetlands protection, Greece has formed an environmental policy and has undertaken initiatives that rightly and justifiably allow optimism for the future. I can mention the following indicative examples:

The fixed and stable rejection of the use of nuclear plants for energy production in Greece is gaining ground in today's Europe, which is now trying to acquit itself from such installations.

The significant reduction of agrochemicals in our agriculture brings us to the top position as regards the cleanliness of soils and water as well as our agricultural and livestock produce.

The Greek initiative in June 1999 at the Council of Ministers of Environment of the EU for the moratorium and re-examination of the European Legislation on the Genetically Modified Organisms and the modified food products, not only came as a reply to the worries of the European citizens, but also played a crucial role in forming the final position of the EU at the World Trade Organization Conference in Seattle, USA, last month and the meeting for the Biosafety Protocol in Montreal last week.

The conference of the Ministers of Environment of the 11 member states for the Economic Collaboration of the Black Sea in Thessaloniki in September 1999 under Greek Presidency has shown the great possibilities for collaboration in Southeastern Europe in the field of Environment and Sustainable Development.

We believe that the recent crises in the field of food with the mad cows, toxics, modified products, etc., will lead to a booming demand for agricultural and livestock products which are produced with methods that respect the environment in areas that are protected under International Conventions such as Prespa, Amvrakikos, the Messolonghi lagoons, Evros, Pindos, Parnon, etc.

Very soon the European citizens will pay larger sums to buy food rather than expensive clothes. To this direction, the countries of the Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea hold comparative advantages.

In our capacity as Ministry of Environment we underline our decision to utilize these advantages jointly with our neighboring peoples with actions and programmes similar to today's Agreement.

The protection of natural resources does not create unemployment. On the contrary, it can create many employment opportunities. The example of Denmark, that within its increasing development rate has managed to employ in the environment sector more people than in fisheries, tells the tale. We can achieve the development that secures what is necessary to the generation of today without compromising the future of next generations. We must hand the soil, the water and the air to our children unsullied as we took them from our parents.

Earth is our home and we all want this home to be a nest of love, happiness and welfare. Every GIFT to the EARTH is a GIFT to MAN and to LIFE.

 Address by Mr Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands

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Distinguished Prime Ministers,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, 2 February 2000, in many of the 118 countries that have adhered to the Convention on Wetlands, governments, non-governmental organizations, and local communities are celebrating World Wetlands Day. This celebration marks the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar, in the shores of the Caspian Sea.

As Secretary General of the Convention I am honored and filled with joy for having the opportunity of attending what very possibly constitutes the most significant of the World Wetlands Day celebrations taking place around the world.

I am saying that because today here in Agios Germanos we are witnessing an event that we would like to see repeated dozens, hundreds of times all over the planet. We are witnessing three Heads of Government coming together, joined by non-governmental organizations and local communities, to declare their resolution to join forces across the borders of their three sovereign nations to establish a protected area that should provide benefits to the local people and at the same time contribute to conserve the biodiversity of the planet.

From the perspective of the Convention on Wetlands this is an occasion for true celebration. Because we are seeing three Contracting Parties putting the Convention at work to the full. First because the Convention is based on the concept of "wise use" of wetlands. Wetlands constitute an important asset in the natural infrastructure of each nation that can be used for the benefit of people, provided that that use does not destroy the ecological characteristics of the sites. You are doing so in this region. Second, because another important pillar of the Convention is the cooperation of Contracting Parties in relation to shared wetlands and water systems. You are providing today an excellent example of that cooperation.

Of course this ceremony here today, as important as it is, represents only the beginning of a process that will require firm political commitment, significant investments, and a lot of work in the areas of research, innovative development projects, and training.

I very much hope that the three countries will work in that direction and that the NGOs and the international community will be ready to support their efforts. In the Convention secretariat, we are ready to contribute to the best of our abilities and resources. We do not have a fund to tap resources from but we can help in accessing resources from many places, including the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. We also can put at your disposal our extensive network of wetland experts and practitioners should you need technical assistance and advice.

Allow me not to close my remarks without making reference to two important contributors to this process: the Society for the Protection of Prespa, which last year won the Ramsar Prize for Wetlands Conservation and Wise Use, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). They constitute two brilliant examples of how nature conservation and people’s well-being should work together if we want to save Planet Earth.

Thank you very much for allowing me to celebrate World Wetlands Day in such a magnificent corner of the planet, and at the same time having the joy of witnessing such an important undertaking for this region that over the history has had its share of human suffering and destruction. I am sure that today you are turning that page forever. I congratulate you.

Thank you.

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