World Wetlands Day 2000 - Islamic Republic of Iran
Celebration of World Wetlands Day in the Islamic Republic of Iran
World Wetlands Day Celebration
at Ramsar, Islamic Republic of Iran,
on 7 February 2000
Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands
It is a great honour for me to be hosted today at Ramsar by Her Excellency the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Masomeh Ebtecar, and provincial and local officials, to celebrate World Wetlands Day.
As you are all aware, it was in this very place that, 29 years ago, on 2 February 1971, the plenipotentiary representatives of 18 nations signed the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, known today as the Ramsar Convention.
During this 29 years, the world, including this country, has gone through dramatic changes. Our Convention has also gone through very significant developments. To start with, 100 other nations have joined the original 18 signatories: today, the Conventions has 118 Contracting Parties. From the formal point of view, the text of the treaty has been changed on two occasions: first with the Paris Protocol adopted in 1982, and secondly with the Regina (Canada) amendments adopted in 1987. These were improvements related to the operation of the Convention, but the substance of the Convention remained unchanged.
In spite of the fact that the substantial aspects of the treaty continue to be those adopted in Ramsar in 1971, the interpretation and the application of the Convention has been widened in a very significant manner. As you are aware, those enlightened and forward-looking people who promoted the elaboration and adoption of the Ramsar Convention were particularly concerned with the conservation of wetlands as waterbird habitats, a genuine concern that generated the existence of what we have today: one of the most effective environment-related treaties.
But today the preoccupations and approach of the treaty go far beyond wetlands just as waterbird habitats. We are now looking at all the values and functions of wetlands that make these habitats very significant assets for the socio-economic development of countries and for the maintenance of healthy freshwater and coastal zone ecosystems.
These developments were due, to a large extent, to the influence of developing countries that are facing the daunting task of fighting poverty and environmental degradation and that were saying that a focus and emphasis on waterbird conservation was perceived as a luxury they could not afford. We are thankful to them, because they have encouraged the treaty to enlarge its vision and its relevance, without abandoning the basic concern that the founding fathers had in mind.
Today the Convention has developed tools that allow governments, non-governmental organizations, and the academic community to work effectively in relation to the three main pillars of the Convention.
The first pillar is the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Today the Ramsar List includes 1,014 sites in the 118 member countries, sites that cover more than 72 million hectares. Iran has designated 19 sites, with a total of more than 1.4 million hectares. They include many very important wetlands, such as the Anzali complex and the Miankaleh Peninsula, the Deltas of Rud-e-Gaz and Rud-e-Hara, and the 400,000-hectare Shadeagan Marshes and mudflats of Khor-al Amaya and Khor Musa. But out of the almost 290 wetlands currently identified in Iran, at least 63 of these would meet also the criteria for listing under Ramsar. We welcomed the designation of the Govater Bay and Hur-e-Bahu in 1999 and today I have great pleasure in handing over to Her Excellency Dr. Ebtecar the certificate of designation as a Wetland of International Importance of Shervar Island, designated only a few days ago, on 24 January. We will be looking to further designations, so that Iran may soon contribute further to implementing the vision for the Ramsar List adopted at the Conference of the Parties last year: "To develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the ecological and hydrological functions they perform."
It should also be remembered that five of the 19 Ramsar sites in Iran have been included in the so-called "Montreux Record" of sites that require priority attention because of the conservation problems that exist in them. The secretariat of the Convention continues to be at the disposal of the Department of the Environment in its efforts to find solutions to the problems at these Ramsar sites.
The second pillar of the Convention is that of the "wise use" of wetlands. This constitutes a key concept inscribed in the text of the Convention, which requires that Contracting Parties "shall formulate their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List, and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory". The Contracting Parties have adopted a definition of "wise use" that makes it equivalent to "sustainable use": wetlands can be used "for the benefit of mankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem".
The Conference of the Parties have also adopted a number of guidelines for the implementation of the wise use concept, and these are now being published in the form of six handbooks directly related to this area of the Conventions work. I very much hope that resources can be found to translate and print these materials in Farsi.
In the case of Iran, I am very pleased that the secretariat of the Convention is working with the Department of Environment and the United Nations Development Programme in the preparation of a significant project for submission to the Global Environment Facility. Assuming that the project will be approved, when implemented, it will represent a crucial step forward in the direction of the wise use of wetlands in Iran. I very much hope that this project will culminate in the preparation and implementation of a National Wetland Policy that will permit the most effective use of the wetland resources in this country for the benefit of socio-economic development, while at the same time ensuring the long term conservation of these resources.
The third pillar of the Convention is that of international cooperation, "especially in the case of a wetland extending over the territories of more than one Contracting Party or where a water system is shared by Contracting Parties". With the adoption at the last Conference of the Parties, in May last year, of the Guidelines for international cooperation under the Ramsar Convention, the treaty should be entering a period of much more active implementation of this obligation. One of the areas covered by the Guidelines is that of development assistance. I am pleased that we will soon have at the Ramsar secretariat a full-time officer dedicated exclusively to working with the development assistance community in order to generate a more significant flow of resources for wetland conservation and sustainable use in the developing countries and countries in transition.
The Ramsar Convention preceded the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development, and the conventions that emerged from that process, by more than 20 years. Nevertheless, I am happy that we have managed to bring the Ramsar Convention very close to these new treaties. We have a Joint Work Plan with the Convention on Biological Diversity, and we are working to develop a similar type of relationship with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We also have Memoranda of Cooperation signed with the Conventions on Desertification, World Heritage, and Migratory Species.
Your Excellency, Dr. Ebtecar, other DOE, provincial and local authorities,
It has been a great pleasure for me to be back in Ramsar to celebrate with you this first World Wetlands Day in the new millennium. The Convention that was born in this place has become a significant instrument for sustainable development on this planet. You should be proud of it. For my part, I recognize with satisfaction the efforts that are being made in Iran, in particular by the Department of Environment, for the effective implementation of the treaty. I am also grateful for the support that the Islamic Republic of Iran provides to the Ramsar Convention in the international fora, a concrete example being the proposals made by the Iranian delegation at the last Council Meeting of the Global Environment Facility.
I look forward to continue working in close cooperation with all of you.