Ramsar and the Commission on Sustainable Development Intersessional Ad hoc Working Group on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management


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Statement by the Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) delivered by the Deputy Secretary General of the Convention, Dr Bill Phillips, to the Commission on Sustainable Development Intersessional Ad hoc Working Group on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management

23 February 1998

Madam/Mr Co-chair,

I wish to join my colleagues here in congratulating you on your elections to the position of high responsibility you have here.

I represent the secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and may I take this opportunity to thank you for admitting us as an Intergovernmental Organization to this meeting. We were once a Convention that gave greatest attention to protecting the habitats of waterbirds, but just as the world has recognized that wetlands are not wastelands, so has the Convention broadened its charter and is now a very active international instrument in promoting the tools and policies of sustainable, integrated river basin management.

Firstly, let me say that the Ramsar Convention, now 27 years old and with 106 Contracting Parties (including most of your governments represented here), welcomes the growing recognition within the global dialogue on sustainable water management of references to the ecosystem approach. This includes the papers we have before us in this Intersessional and in those currently under preparation for the respective work of the World Water Council, the Global Water Partnership, as well as the Water and Sustainable Development Conference being hosted by the Government of France in a few weeks’ time.

But my sense is that we still have some way to go to before we all have the same interpretation of that much used term "integrated water resources management". I fear that we still have not reached the point in this debate where it is accepted that ecosystems are the fundamental building blocks of "healthy" and productive waterways. We continue to hear statements based on sectoral thinking, which as we all acknowledge got us to the point we are now, where over the next two months both this Commission and the Government of France will host high-level meetings to address the global water crisis. The language of this global water discussion is beginning to show greater balance, but let us dispense with this sectoralism and move decisively and cooperatively to embrace the new paradigm of integrated water resource management. This new paradigm must give prominence to ecosystems and sustaining them as the central element, and involve consultations with all sectors and stakeholders.

If I may use wetlands as a case in point. To some, these remain areas we should protect for their richness in biological diversity, and, while this is the case, let us not forget their roles in supplying clean water, in flood mitigation, protecting us from the impacts of droughts, in food production (especially fish), as focal points of economic development and for the microclimatic benefits they provide. In short, these areas are not luxuries - something we protect if we can, after all other demands are met - they have to be recognized as a part of the driving forces of water systems - the ecosystems.

Our colleague from Australia has indicated some impatience for getting on with the job at hand. The representative speaking for the Small Island Developing States did likewise. We agree with them. There are a number of programs and international instruments that are already doing this or which are well placed to do so. While accepting that the coordination needs to be improved, the challenge is not to find the tools and mechanisms - these already exist, or are being fine tuned as we sit here. The challenge is to mobilize the resources to implement these tools and to ensure that through this process we underpin integrated water resources management with protecting the ecosystems that provide the goods and services the human population needs.

Our Convention is among this group of international instruments which is already out there getting on with the job. To give you some sense of this I would like to refer to the technical program for our next Conference of the Contracting Parties to be held in Costa Rica in May next year. At this conference we will consider, and in most cases finalize guidance to our Contracting Parties in the following areas:

  • wetlands in the hydrological cycle
  • integrated water resources management and wetlands
  • National Water Policy formulation
  • harmonizing biodiversity, desertification, wetland and other policy instruments and implementation
  • wetlands and pollution management
  • legislation review and implementation
  • environmental impact assessment
  • capacity building for integrated administrative structures
  • involvement of local and indigenous people in managing wetlands
  • tools for conflict resolution
  • incentives/fiscal measures
  • valuing water and wetland systems
  • forecasting social impacts of wetland and waterway degradation
  • indicators for rapid assessment and monitoring
  • transboundary river basins - models for cooperative management.

Many topics on this long list have been put forward before as priorities, and over the next few weeks the need to address them will be further reinforced by this Commission and the high-level conference in Paris. Most of you will have papers prepared over the past few years that also put forward some or all of these topics for attention. The time has come to mobilize support for implementing these tools and models - that is the challenge. We must conclude, and recommend, that integrated water resources management has to be built upon protecting and maintaining "healthy" ecosystems and that the global donor community needs to put its support and resources behind getting on with the job. The structures do exist, the expertise is at hand, but we are failing to deliver the resources where they are most urgently needed.

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