Ramsar visit to Uganda, March 2004, in preparation for COP9

31/03/2004

Media Release

Kampala, Uganda, March 16th 2004 (Ramsar Convention Secretariat): Three representatives from the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, including the Secretary General of the Convention, Dr. Peter Bridgewater, and the Senior Adviser for Africa, Mr. Abou Bamba, visited Kampala for 6 days to officially launch the preparations for the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention that will take place in November 2005 (7th to 15th) in Kampala (Uganda). This visit coincided with the national celebration of World Wetlands Day (WWD) in Uganda, on March 12th.

What is a COP? The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the governing body of any international convention. It brings together all the contracting parties (member countries) to the convention to discuss and agree on the policies and guidelines for the next three years. In the case of the Ramsar Convention, the COP will set global benchmarks for better conservation and wise use of wetlands and water. Under the global theme "Wetlands and water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods", COP9 will seek a global strategy for the sustainable use of wetlands to ensure water for the ecosystems but also, and among anything else, following the recent shift on the Convention's focus, water for people.

Water and its management will be the major issue of the 21st century. The geographical division of water is unequal, as are the resources needed for proper water management. At least 20% of the world population doesn't have access to safe drinking water today, and another 50% does not have any water sanitation system. More generally, 40% of the world population lives in water-scarce river basins. Waterborne diseases, consequences of a bad water management scheme, kill between 5 and 10 million people each year.

Key facts and figures…

Uganda will host Ramsar's 9th Conference of the Parties from November 7th to 15th, 2005

"Wetlands and Water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods" will be the central theme of CoP9 in Uganda.

Around 150 countries and 1700 delegates are expected to attend the event.

COP9 will be the first major environmental event to be held in the heart of Africa.

Water and its wise use and management will be at the center of debates as the new focus of the Ramsar Convention and one of the most critical issues for Africa.

20% of the world has no access to safe drinking water and 50% does not have sanitation.

Waterborne diseases kill between 5 and 10 million people each year.

Wetlands produce an estimated value of US$ 3.4 billions each year, according to a recent WWF report.

These issues are of global concern, but they take are magnified in Africa. This is why it is particularly important for Ramsar to hold the first major environmental event in the heart of this continent. For the first time in the History of environmental agreements, around 150 countries and 1700 delegates will stop talking about Africa as a far located problem and will be immersed in the reality of the continent to demonstrate that sustainable development is more than words on an official sheet of paper.

Why Uganda? Uganda has been chosen by the previous Conference of the Parties, held in Valencia, Spain, in 2002. This choice was based primarily on the offer from the Ugandan Government to host next COP, but it was also a recognition for the country's efforts in protecting and managing its wetlands on a sustainable way. Of course, as in any other country, some gaps are still to be filled but despite this, Uganda can be considered as the one of the most advanced countries in Africa for wetland protection and management policies.

Uganda's wetlands are under threat. They are being converted to different land use including agriculture and settlement. The destruction is most rampant in urban areas and the rural areas are slowly undergoing reclamation caused by growing of paddy rice. However, the Wetlands Inspection Division has put in place a 10 year-Wetlands Strategic Plan to promote the wise use of wetlands. Wetlands have also been included in the national plan to eradicate poverty.

COP9 will assist to raise profile the wetlands. It would create awareness and put the wetlands higher on the political agenda of the hosting government.

The main issues should include good governance in relation to decentralisation and centralization, the wise use of wetlands to eradicate poverty and the impact of World Bank funding conditions on wetlands such as the Structure Adjustment Programme.

What are the benefits for Uganda? The COP is an extraordinary opportunity for Uganda to showcase its efforts and successes, but also failures in the area of environment and natural resource management. The COP will give the government departments and agencies, as well as the civil society a boost to do better in the areas where there are still short falls. The conference will improve Uganda's image locally and abroad through wide publicity generated before, during and after the COP. Further more, Uganda's developing position as a prime travel destination for ecotourism and research will be enhanced. The country will be assisted in mobilizing resources for implementation of the Wetlands Sector Strategic Plan. At the end of the day there is expected to be a boost to the economy through direct spending by the delegates during the conference. Many will probably stay longer to enjoy what the country has to offer. A few delegates with tight travel programmes may return later to explore and experience the immense natural beauty of Uganda.

The road to Kampala 2005. This first visit of the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention to Uganda marks the starting point of the road to COP9. During this first visit, all efforts have been concentrated on finding partnerships for the preparation of the COP. The main embassies and diplomatic representatives, development agencies and possible donors have been contacted in order to start establishing the partnership network. A national organizing committee has been established, under the coordination of the Wetlands Inspection Division, and contacts have been established with other stakeholders, like the NGO community in Uganda including IUCN's Regional Office. The Secretariat was pleased to see that the civil society was already mobilized towards COP9, as with the creation of a National Environmental NGOs Forum, for example who will coordinate the NGO's efforts for the COP. On the official side, there have been some positive reactions and strong commitments from the main Ministries in the Ugandan Government, like the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, or the Ministry of Finances, and among some diplomatic representatives.

Of course, this is just the beginning of the road, and many things will have to be done and decided during the next few months, but both Uganda and the Ramsar Secretariat are en route on the road to Kampala 2005 to make of this event, as the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, Dr. Peter Bridgewater said, "the first in Africa, but also, the best ever".

For any information on the Ramsar Convention or on this document, please contact:

Mr. Sebastià Semene
Special Assistant on Media and Outreach
Ramsar Convention
Rue Mauverney, 28
1196 Gland (Switzerland)
Tel: +41229990170
Fax: +41229990169
E-mail: ssg@ramsar.org

Mr. Paul Mafabi
Assistant Commissioner for Wetlands
Wetlands Inspection Division
Ministry of Water, Land and Environment
Century Building - Parliament Avenue
Kampala (Uganda)
Tel: +25641254706
Fax: +25641348772 or 342298
E-mail: mafabip@ugandawetlands.org

-- Sebastià Semene


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