Ramsar and the water meetings of spring 1998
The world focuses on water
Ramsar and the CBD set to join forces
Nineteen ninety-seven will probably be remembered as the year when "water" took its place as one of the worlds big issues. Fittingly, 1998 now gets its chance to shape the response to this looming crisis. Between now and early June, there will be three major conferences that will examine the issues and endeavour to mobilise the responses needed. These are the Water and Sustainable Development conference, to be held in Paris from 19-21 March, the UNs Commission on Sustainable Development meeting commencing in New York on 20 April, and the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), beginning in Bratislava on 4 May. All will involve high-level government delegations and interested NGOs. While each will look at the "water" issues from a slightly different perspective, the combined (and hopefully integrated) responses to emerge must signal the new way forward in dealing with these problems.
The Bureau of the Ramsar Convention has been doing its part to help shape the response, arguing in several of the preparatory meetings for the above conferences that the "ecosystems approach" must underpin the implementation of the new paradigm of integrated water resources management. We have also been an active player in the development of visionary statements and work programs, respectively, of the World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership. These parallel activities will all come together, hopefully, at the first of the "water" conferences, that in Paris in late March. The Bureau has also prepared a paper for this conference which calls upon the participants to recognise the importance of wetlands to maintaining "healthy" water systems, to respond by urging governments to put an immediate halt to all actions that are causing the destruction or degradation of wetlands, and to encourage the restoration and rehabilitation of wetlands as a longer term response to the global water crisis.
When the CSD meets in New York in April, the Bureau will also be continuing to promote the ecosystems approach. At the recent preparatory meeting, the Intersessional Ad Hoc Working Group on Freshwater, the Bureau made two statements (see below) which again emphasise that wetlands are vital elements of water systems, which must be recognised, or the concept of integrated water resources management will be based on a false premise. The CSD Intersessional also saw Ramsar and the CBD joining forces to promote the ecosystems approach and the statements elaborate several areas where the two conventions are proposing to work as partners.
Finally then, there is the CBDs COP4 in May, where freshwater ecosystems will be one of the main items of discussion. The Ramsar Bureau has prepared, and will circulate in advance of the meeting, a proposed Joint Work Programme with the CBD. It responds to the priorities of the CBD in both inland freshwater ecosystems and the coastal and marine environments, and is based on the priorities set down in Ramsars Strategic Plan 1997-2002. All that remains is for the CBD Conference to give this Joint Work Plan its authority and the partnership will be formalised.
-- reported by Bill Phillips, Deputy Secretary General
Ramsar Statement to the Commission on Sustainable Development Intersessional Ad hoc Working Group on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management (23 February 1998)
Ramsar Statement to the Commission on Sustainable Development Intersessional Ad hoc Working Group on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management (24 February 1998)