People and wetlands -- the vital link

[This a reprint of an interview article with Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, with World Birdwatch, the magazine of BirdLife International, edited by Kathleen Rosewarne, vol. 19, no. 3, September 1997, reprinted with permission (I hope). -- Web Editor.]

People and Wetlands: the Vital Link

This is the theme adopted for the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), to be held in Costa Rica 10-18 May 1999. Does this mean that Ramsar is no longer a treaty that is concerned mostly with waterhirds and that the emphasis has shifted to people? Yes and no.

Yes, Ramsar is no longer concerned mostly with waterbirds, despite the fact that the name of the convention continues to be Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. The Convention has moved a long way towards a holistic approach to wetland issues in several ways. It has become increasingly concerned with all components of the biodiversity of wetland habitats, some of which, such as wetland fish species, are vital to the communities that depend on them for their food security, and for commercial fisheries that have their natural nursery grounds in coastal wetlands.

It has looked at wetlands within the context of the fresh or marine aquatic systems that they belong to, with the understanding that each component of a system depends on the good functioning of all the other components. It has actively integrated the human equation into the question of wetland conservation: in most cases people are the cause of wetland deterioration and loss -- often unwillingly or unconsciously, sometimes by acting irresponsibly out of shortsighted self-interest. But through informed and democratic involvement, people can also be the source of enlightened positive action for wetland conservation and wise use.

I am persuaded that by moving towards this holistic approach, which includes all the necessary aspects of the natural sciences (from biology, through hydrology and limnology to geography, just to cite a few) and all the necessary components of the social sciences (from economics, to social psychology and anthropology, to education, to sociology), the Convention will have a

much greater chance of ensuring the long-term protection of waterfowl, the group of species that were singled out in the title and in the text of the treaty as being of particular concern. I always welcome the interaction with the Birdlife family and have tremendous sympathy for its concerns and admiration for the tenacity and effectiveness of its action. By combining forces with the many other families that are also concerned with wetland issues from other motivations and with other expectations, we can reach a wider consensus that can put us all in a win-win situation. I invite you to start planning for Costa Rica, keeping in mind one central preoccupation: how to involve people -- from the leaders of society to the man and woman in the street -- in a positive way, for the benefit of our shared concerns.

Delmar Blasco is Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Iran, 1971), Gland, Switzerland.

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