Testimony about Ramsar before the U.S. Congress

01/05/1997

Statement of the U.S. National Ramsar Committee Submitted to the [United States] Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations

30 April 1997

The U.S. National Ramsar Committee, whose members include World Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited Inc., the Sierra Club, the Association of State Wetlands Managers, the Conservation Treaty Support Fund, the Caddo Lake Institute, the Terrene Institute, and the American Bird Conservancy, appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony on the fiscal year 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies also is a member of the Ramsar Committee, but has submitted separate testimony on the fiscal year 1998 budget.

The conservation programs funded under the International Organizations and Programs account, including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fora and Fauna, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, are particularly important for the restoration and conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat throughout the world. These programs also benefit human communities by promoting sustainable development. Funding for the Ramsar Convention, for example, is used to provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries for the conservation and wise use of aquatic ecosystems. The Ramsar Convention helps these countries develop strategies for profiting from wetlands, rivers, lakes and estuaries, while maintaining the natural processes from which human uses are derived. The administration requested $365 million for International Organizations and Programs in fiscal year 1998.

Prudent investments in the protection of natural ecosystems and human welfare are in the economic interest of the United States. Making these investments now can yield dividends for our children's future; dividends in the form of more bountiful harvests, life-saving drugs, a stable climate, and a clean environment. The Ramsar Convention funding will be particularly critical to assure the global supply of seafood and the abundance of waterfowl and other bird species. Wetland conservation through the Convention provides other, crucial ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, which counteracts global warming, water quality enhancement, and flood damage reduction.

The Ramsar Convention is the only global agreement designed specifically to restore and protect aquatic ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, wetlands, and shallow marine systems such as coral reefs. The Convention promotes the sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems, allowing communities to gain economic benefits from these areas while maintaining the ecosystem's viability. Ramsar designations have brought many environmental and economic benefits to sites in the United States, including improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and increased tourism. In many developing nations, the Ramsar Convention is the only policy tool available for protecting aquatic ecosystems.

The Convention has been extremely important in the past, but its importance will increase over the next several decades as aquatic ecosystems generally, and freshwater systems in particular, come under growing pressure from a burgeoning population. Over the next 30 years, for example, the world's population will grow by 45 percent, while our collective ability to capture freshwater will increase by only ten percent. This relative scarcity of water may be exacerbated by global climate change, which is anticipated to prolong and intensify both flood and drought events. A decrease in water supplies will likely lead to intensified regional competition for water, not only in the conflict-ridden areas of the world such as Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, but also here in the United States.

A combination of increased drought and flood patterns is likely to motivate an increase in demands for engineering structures, such as dams and levees, to control the flow of water throughout the world. A boom in the construction of dams and other water control structures could have severe consequences. Human communities in the vicinity of new reservoirs may be forced to relocate to more marginal areas with negative consequences for their welfare. People who rely on aquatic ecosystems for their livelihoods, such as floodplain farmers and fishermen, are also vulnerable to changes in the hydrologic regimes of these ecosystems. Reliance on large-scale and expensive engineering works can make nations economically vulnerable to the whims of climate, markets, and upstream riparian nations who can control water flows. Alterations of aquatic ecosystems, including physical, chemical, and biological changes, contribute to the decline of the world's freshwater species, of which at least 20 percent have become extinct, threatened, or endangered in recent years.

Because of the potential severe impacts of large-scale, water resources infrastructure on communities, economies, and ecosystems, it is important that all nations contemplating such development have access to the most modern technology for water resources management. Over the past several decades, for example, new technologies and operating procedures, such as watershed restoration, secondary channel creation and artificial floods, have been developed that can conserve water resources and reduce the negative impacts of engineered structures on people and on the environment. The Ramsar Convention provides an important tool for transferring these technologies to the countries that need them.

Failure of the U.S. to fully fund its commitments to international conservation programs results in significant shortfalls of funding that can paralyze the operations of the implementing organizations. Conservation work undertaken by the Ramsar Secretariat will become even more important in future years as expanding human populations and a changing climate place increasing pressure on water resources. Reductions in Ramsar funding could result in severe hardship to aquatic ecosystems and the people that depend on them. Failure of the U.S. to fulfil its commitments to these programs also severely diminishes the ability of the U.S. government and its cooperators in the non-governmental community to provide effective influence and leadership in these programs.

We urge the Subcommittee to support the President's 1998 budget request for the International Organizations and Programs account of the Foreign Operations budget. Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony.

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