Ramsar's statement to the final plenary, 2nd International Conference on Wetlands and Development


2nd International Conference on Wetlands and Development
Dakar, Senegal, 8-14 November 1998

dakar98b.jpg (22240 bytes)

[Third from left at the top: His Royal Highness Chief Litunga of Barotseland (Western Province), Zambia; on the right, Chris Kalden, WWF International

Statement to the final plenary by the
Deputy Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Dr Bill Phillips

 On behalf of the Convention on Wetlands I’d like to thank Wetlands International and its partners for their efforts in organising this most significant conference. Thanks should also go to the Government of Senegal for their support and interest and the others, such as financial supporters, that have assisted in some way.

This week, two of us from the Ramsar Convention Bureau, Mr Anada Tiéga, our African Regional Coordinator, and I have been participating fully, and throughout that period our minds have been partly focused on the preparations for the 7th Ramsar Convention Conference (COP7) to be held in Costa Rica next May. Next week I will return to Switzerland to finalise the texts of several of the documents for that meeting and so you can be assured that your conclusions and deliberations will be reflected in these papers.

In this short statement I have been asked to give you a sense of how the outcomes from this meeting here in Senegal will feature in our COP7 programme - to project us forward to May next year.

At Ramsar’s COP7 there will be five technical sessions based broadly on the themes of integrated water management and wetlands, national planning tools, involving local communities, assessment tools, and international cooperation. I propose to give you my reflections on how the workshop reports we have just heard relate to each of them.

Technical Session 1 at COP7 has the theme of Ramsar and Water. At this meeting here in Dakar we have heard the clear message that water, or the lack of it, is THE factor limiting development in many parts of the world, and especially in Africa. The challenge is to achieve efficient and equitable distribution of water, recognising that the word "efficient" as used here means "sustainable use".

This conference has also demonstrated very clearly that we have to move with greater speed to manage our water resources at the river basin or catchment level. Competition between water sectors has to be removed through integrated approaches and, where they are impediments, artificial political boundaries have to be put aside through cooperation.

Here in Dakar we have also seen presented and demonstrated the vital role that wetlands play in addressing the problems of food and water security and poverty alleviation. This message needs to be carried loud and clear to the world.

At COP7 we will look at guidelines for integrating wetlands into river basin management and how to factor wetlands conservation and wise use into water policy formulation.

Technical Session 2 has the theme of national planning for wetland conservation and wise use. In this area we have not heard any real surprises here at this meeting. The priority remains to ensure that government policies and administration are in line with, and able to provide for, the expectations and needs of the people living with and relying on wetlands. Top-down approaches do not work and we need to make this known.

In this conference I have also heard it said that governments tend to have short term, sectoral approaches, while the people living around wetlands have longer term, multiple and sustainable uses in mind. This is another important point.

Governments, we have heard, need to put in place the supporting frameworks for the wise use of wetlands and this must include consultation mechanisms as long-term processes, not one-off project-based efforts, and full transparency in decision-making.

Next year in Costa Rica the Ramsar Convention will adopt guidelines for the development of national wetland policies and for reviewing legislation and associated institutions.

Technical Session 3 will examine the major theme of COP7, People and wetlands - the vital link. We heard earlier this week that here in Africa the concept of community participation in the management of wetlands is not a new phenomenon as it is the developed world. We have also heard it stated that traditional knowledge is not always the answer to wetland management problems. The contexts have changed no matter where you are in the world and our management of wetlands needs to respond accordingly.

On our field trips we also saw in many cases the increasing involvement of women in wetlands management – women taking the initiative and acting to ensure the sustainability of wetlands. This is another message that deserves special consideration at COP7.

In this Technical Session at COP7, guidelines for involving local communities and indigenous people in wetlands management will be considered as will incentives for promoting wise use practices.

In Technical Session 4, COP7 will focus on tools for assessing and recognising wetland values. Here in Dakar I have heard of two major needs in this regard. First, there is a major gap in our suite of "tools" in the form of inventory, or the lack of them. As I said in my keynote paper to the Wetlands International Board of Members earlier this week: how can we possibly manage what we have not described? This has to be one of our highest priorities, especially here in Africa.

The other recurring theme is assessment techniques. We’ve undervalued wetlands, in every way, for centuries, so that when decisions are made wetlands have traditionally suffered and, as a consequence, so have we. We need better valuation techniques so that the TRUE values of wetlands are on the table whenever decisions are taken. Ramsar’s COP7 will look in detail at strategic environmental assessment, environmental impact assessment, and social impact assessment as well as the priorities in the area of inventory.

The 5th Technical Session will consider the issues of international and regional cooperation. The 2nd Wetlands and Development meeting has shown that there are many aspects to international cooperation, not the least of which is the transfer of knowledge and expertise. A word of caution here, however, as there is a danger that we will look exclusively to the information superhighway and the Internet as the answer. We must recognise that the "bush" telegraph and the passing on of knowledge distilled from experience between generations and by word of mouth must also be supported and encouraged.

Under the rubric of international cooperation for migratory species conservation, we have heard of the potential which exists for synergy between the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species. Through the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the Conventions this will be advanced, with the strategic use of Ramsar site designations being promoted as a tool to protect the critical habitats of migratory species.

Another major area of international cooperation is financing our efforts to promote wise use of wetlands. The workshop on this has revealed a disturbing downward trend in available funds from the donor community since Rio [1992], and yet we have also heard how wetlands are becoming a mainstream issue for some donors. The challenges and needs here are to incorporate financing into policy instruments, to move toward a range of new financing mechanisms such as polluter pays or beneficiary pays, and to simplify the complex administration associated with seeking and receiving donor aid.

At COP7, the Ramsar Convention will examine international cooperation in detail as well as guidelines to assist with undertaking this aspect of the Convention.

In conclusion, I have heard several ‘quotable quotes’ this week - among them: "people are the problem and must provide the solution", "will we prove to be smart parasites or stupid parasites", and "wetlands cannot be protected if they are of no value to people". This latter quotation is consistent with the statement made at the opening of this meeting that "the wise use of wetlands is for the benefit of people and the environment". It seems that at last we are learning the lesson: that those people who appreciate how much they rely upon wetlands will protect them with greater conviction.

Finally, Mr Chairman, this week has been ideally timed to allow the conclusions of the 2nd Wetlands and Development Conference to be carried forward to the 7th Ramsar Convention COP in San Jose.

It is obvious that Africa has a lot to teach the world about the sustainable use of wetlands, and I hope that the 54 countries of this region will come to Costa Rica to make their voices heard.

It might surprise you to know that at this meeting this week there are representatives of some 13 African countries which are not yet Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands. These are Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. I urge these representatives to return home and pursue Ramsar accession as a matter of priority. We need your voices within this Convention to ensure that the voice of Africa rings loud and clear next year in Costa Rica. This will guarantee that the Ramsar Convention becomes the international instrument for the sustainable use of wetlands and water that you have debated and considered here this week.

Thank you.

dakar98.jpg (29621 bytes)

Anada Tiéga, Ramsar Regional Coordinator for Africa, and Bill Phillips, Deputy Secretary General, with his special bird tie on, assessing the results of the 2nd International Conference on Wetlands and Development.

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