Southern Africa Subregional Meeting, Pretoria, South Africa, 2-6 February 1998



2-6 FEBRUARY 1998


 1 Background

The Government of South Africa (with financial assistance from the Swiss and theUnited States governments) hosted a Ramsar Southern African Sub Regional Meeting in Pretoria, South Africa from 2 to 6 February 1998. This meeting was called in response to a request by the African countries, during the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention held in Brisbane, Australia during March 1996, for coordination meetings to be organised at sub regional level. It follows similar meetings held in the West African and East Africa subregions.

The objectives of the meeting, which was run in English, were:

To provide information about the implementation of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971) at national level;

To identify priority actions for strengthening the application of the Convention in southern Africa, and

To strengthen cooperation between states in the subregion.

The meeting was aimed at government officers at policy development and management level. The representatives of each government were invited to prepare themselves for discussion on the current activities and priorities for wetland conservation in their countries.


2.1 The meeting was opened by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, who welcomed the participants and announced, as part of the World Wetlands Day celebrations, that South Africa will be designating a further sites to the List of Wetlands of International Importance in terms of the Convention (Nylsvley Nature Reserve and the Limpopo/Luvuvhu Floodplains and Pans).

2.2 Participants then introduced themselves, indicating their involvement in wetland conservation. The following Contracting Parties in the subregion were represented: Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. The observer countries, all members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were: Lesotho, Moçambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The other participants were representatives of Wetlands International, IUCN-ROSA and the Ramsar Bureau (the Secretary General and the Regional Coordinator for Africa).

2.3 The objectives were set out as above and the agenda largely followed the objectives as set out in the Convention on Wetlands’ Strategic Plan 1997-2002 as accepted in Brisbane.

2.4 The Secretary General and the African Technical Officer presented background information on the Convention, covering the following topics:

The Convention’s objectives, successes, obligations and benefits of membership to a country, benefits of members to the subregion, activities of the Standing Committee, activities of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, representation of the subregion on the Standing Committee and Technical Committees, and the preparations for the Seventh Conference of Parties to the Convention, to be held in 1999.

2.5 The topic wise use of wetlands was discussed under three sub-headings:

2.5.1 Wetland values, where the need for a programme to carry out an economic valuation of wetland systems in the SADC to be initiated was identified. The need for the project arises from the low profile of wetlands in both national and regional planning processes in the subregion, and because most of the major catchments in the subregion are shared systems. The results of this programme to be used to promote the wise use of wetlands in both national and regional planning in the Sub-region. This programme will be launched immediately by the Ramsar Bureau in cooperation with IUCN-ROSA.

2.5.2 Policy development, where Tanzania and Zimbabwe indicated that they intended ratifying the Convention, but the name of the Convention was causing confusion as to its intent, waterfowl being considered less important than other values of wetlands. The relationship between national policies on biological diversity, water resource management and wetland policies was discussed at length. It was concluded that the development of the other related policies should be seen as opportunities rather than threats, and that wetland policies should either form part of those policies or link very closely with them. Ideally, separate wetland conservation policies should be developed, but it may also be strategically wise at present to raise wetland issues within related policies, such as biodiversity conservation strategies, surrently being developed by Contracting Parties to the CBD.

2.5.3 National planning, where again the need for establishing wetland values in the subregion was emphasized. The need for a larger pool of expertise in wetlands in the subregion was also identified. It was suggested that strong wetlands programmes working in concert with biodiversity programmes are necessary. It was emphasized that all role players, from the land-user to the politician, must be brought on board to participate in any action plan if it is to succeed. National Ramsar committees were suggested as being an effective tool for bringing a wide range of interest groups together on this issue. The emphasis in planning should be on cross-sectoral integration and participation.

2.6 In terms of international cooperation, at the subregional level, wetlands are considered part of the mandate of the SADC Wildlife Sector, which is based in Malawi. Therefore in the subregion the link to biodiversity policy programmes are therefore closer than to water resource management policy programmes. At the wider level, Wetlands International has launched a West African Programme, and maintains its activities throughout the region by means of the African Waterfowl Census. What became patently obvious was that Africa, north of the equator is enjoying a far higher profile internationally than the Southern African Subregion, resulting in better funding for those areas. This is reflected in the number of programmes being run by various organizations, as well as the representation on the Convention’s committees (both STRP member and alternate are from west Africa, the African members on the Standing Committee have all been from north of this subregion (Tunisia, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda)).

2.7 In terms of raising awareness, the questions of what is a wetland and which are the important ones were raised. The importance of upper catchment areas with numerous small wetlands (eg dambos, seeplines), which ultimately feed the larger more obvious one downstream was emphasized. The need to make everyone aware of the value of the resource they are using or abusing was noted. Support throughout the subregion by the exchange of materials, examples of good practice, etc was encouraged, as was the support for successful local initiatives. In order to gain the necessary support of politicians and to build their awareness, field trips to wetlands were suggested. In order for the Convention to receive a higher profile in the subregion, non-Contracting Parties should be encouraged to ratify the Convention. The profile will also be raised when the Convention takes on some of the hard issues in wetland conservation.

2.8 Capacity building is an important issue in the subregion.Awareness of wetland issues and capacity building must be closely linked. Being cross-sectoral, wetland conservation training requires the coverage of numerous sectors. There is a need for community based capacity building programmes. Policy makers need to be targeted (eg the Tre Bien course). However courses are required to address issues specific to southern African. This is being variously addressed in the subregion. IUCN-ROSA initiated a workshop to determine training needs in the SADC; a number of short courses are being planned in South Africa, and a post graduate programme is being considered. Institutional capacity must also be addressed in the subregion.

2.9 The issues relating to sites on the List of Wetlands of International Importance in terms of the Convention included the possibility of some sort of vetting of sites before they are accepted for designation, and the need for good documentation on the site at the time of Listing. The question of benefits to the local community dependant on the wetland was raised. It was agreed that more sites should be Listed in the subregion. The need for the includion of the Convention into the legal systems of Contracting Parties was highlighted.

The development of inventories was discussed and the benefits of computer databases highlighted. As a number of these systems are already in use, it was suggested that these should be considered for the subregion. The lack of capacity to develop wetland inventories was noted as a problem in the subregion.

A number of pertinent issues were raised about management plans for Listed sites. It was noted that the pro-forma supplied by the Convention was an all or nothing approach, which is not particularly relevant to southern African conditions. It was agreed that this needs revision to incorporate a step-by-step process to manage the system, taking into account various tenure systems in the subregion.

2.10 A presentation on South Africa’s Water Policy and the process whereby the environmental reserve for water is being established in legislation provided background for the topic Ramsar and water . This is to be a theme at COP7 where wetlands are to be discussed in terms of the hydrolological cycle, pollution, integrated water resource management and national water policy formulation. It was concluded that the South African approach was a major step in the right direction, rmembering that implementation of such policies is always a long term effort.

2.11 A number of recommendations were adopted which are to be taken forward to the Pan African meeting to be held during July, to other instruments of the Convention, the SADC Wildlife Sector and to individual countries. The topics of the recommendations are:

  • On the Convention’s name (To be submitted to the Ramsar Bureau for inclusion in the agenda of the next COP, and the Pan African meeting)
  • On participation in the STRP (To be submitted through the Bureau for the attention of the Standing Committee)
  • On the valuation of wetland systems (To be submitted to the Bureau, and other funding agencies if necessary)
  • On wetland policies (To be submitted to SADC states)
  • On raising awareness (To be submitted to the Bureau)
  • On universal membership (To be submitted to South Africa)
  • On capacity building (To be submitted to all states in the Sub-region)
  • On Listed sites (To be submitted to all Contracting Parties in the Sub-region)
  • On wetland inventories (To be submitted to all states in the Sub-region, and to the SADC Wildlife Sector focal point)
  • On management plans (To be submitted to the Bureau for the attention of the STRP, and for inclusion as a discussion topic in the Pan-African meeting)
  • On the development of a protocol regarding water security for wetlands, using the SADC water protocol as a model (to be submitted to the Standing Committee for inclusion at COP7
  • On the location of COP8 (to be submitted to the Pan African meeting so that African countries consider offering to host COP8 in 2002)
  • On thanks to the supporting agency and host

2.12 The meeting was closed by G I Cowan of South Africa on behalf of the host country, who thanked the delegates and presenters for their participation in a successful Subregional meeting, which has set a foundation for the Subregion to approach the Pan African Ramsar Meeting to be held in Uganda later in the year. The Secretary General concluded the meeting with a statement of encouragement to the Subregion.

See also the Bureau's summary report of the meeting.

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