World Wetlands Day 2000 - press release from Argentina
World Wetlands Day 2000 / Press Release (English version)
SOUTH AMERICAN WETLANDS NEED MORE PROTECTION
By Jorge Cappato
Even though many people keep on asking "What are wetlands?", the International Convention on Wetlands was signed 30 years ago, in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, best known as Ramsar Convention. It was, by far, the antecedent of many other conventions of the United Nations, which are nowadays more famous, such as the Climate Change, and Biological Diversity signed at Rio '92. But in spite of the effort, the initiatives and the gone time, South American wetlands are in need of a greater and more consistent protection, from the Paramos ecosystems in Colombia to the mangrove swamps in Ecuador, and the remote marshy lands in the Gran Chaco, to face the multiple menaces of degradation.
Argentina, for instance, has some of the largest wetlands in the world. However, since 1992 the number of wetlands under protection, as "Ramsar Sites", has grown at a very low rate. (1) When the World Wetlands Day is about to be celebrated, the new National government of Argentina and the province of Mendoza, have achieved the declaration of the Guanacache lagoons as the seventh Ramsar site in Argentina. At present, Argentina has seven Ramsar sites, which comprise an area of 1,000,039 hectares preserved under this International category. Within the 116 signing States of the Convention, there are 1,012 wetlands which have been declared Ramsar sites.
2 February each year is celebrated the World Wetlands Day (WWD), since it coincides with the date on which the Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar. This WWD was at first celebrated in 1997 and it represented a successful start. For the year 2000, the subject is the "Celebrating of our Wetlands of International Importance", and the objective of having at least 2000 sites in the List by 2005, twice the current number. (5)
IUCN-South has strongly recommended the formation of Work Groups on Wetlands at the National Committees, which have indeed successfully occurred in many cases, showing a relevant growth.(3) Even at the 2000-2005 Program of IUCN-South, the proposed aims for wetlands are extremely important and encouraging for the activities to be performed in this area.
In Argentina, the list of Ramsar Sites is at present conformed by the Pozuelos Lagoon (Jujuy), the Blanca Lagoon (Neuquén), the National Park of Pilcomayo (Formosa), the Costa Atlántica Reserve (Tierra del Fuego), Llancanelo (Mendoza), the Samborombón Bay and Guanacache (Mendoza). In Argentina, except for some provincial regulations preserving wet ecosystems, most of them do not have a legal protection. In addition to an important pending task: to protect large wetlands that grant privilege to our territory. In spite of the fact the Mar Chiquita- Río Dulce wetlands (more than 2,000,000 hectares) were about to be declared Ramsar Sites on last July, their imperative designation is still waiting for a new sign in the Province of Córdoba. The system has unique qualities, as it represents the lower portion of the largest basin in Argentina and South America, in addition to its enormous importance as a climate regulator of one of the most productive areas of the country. The Iberá swampy lands (1,400,000 hectares) are also being delayed by the bureaucracy unevenness.
Another unique system in the world, the fluvial wetlands of the alluvial valley of the Paraná river, 3,000,000 hectares from its confluence with the Paraguay river to the Delta, are not even nominated as Ramsar sites and are in lack of protection in accordance with their extraordinary value. In fact, those are part of the largest "wetlands corridor" in the world, which is born in the swampland of Mato Grosso, Pantanal (which represents the double of Switzerland), goes down by the wetlands of Alto Paraguay and continues through the Paraná river wetlands in Argentina. Undoubtedly, one of the largest reservoirs on the Earth in regard to fresh water and biodiversity, natural resources such as fishing and places of an extraordinary landscaping beauty, involving large areas of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, in the heart of South America.
The General Secretary of the Convention, Delmar Blasco, fosters the idea that "WWD 2000 is a special occasion to celebrate all the wetlands of International importance, also those that fully qualify for inclusion in the List but have not yet been designated". Blasco reminds that wetlands "provide significant benefits to humanity in general because of the ecological functions they perform in the global ecosystem. Locally, in many cases they also provide renewable resources that are of economic and social importance".
It was precisely at the "World Meeting of NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and Communities on Wetlands", assembled in the framework of the seventh International Conference Ramsar (COP7) in Costa Rica, on last May, that entities from 21 countries claimed "to enlarge the list of Ramsar sites, paying special attention to the inclusion of the underrepresented wetlands". The meeting also urged "to establish the mechanisms facilitating the active participation of the local communities, native peoples and NGOs in the decision-making processes of the Convention" and "to maintain civil society informed about the projects that may affect wetlands and to grant them real participation in the consultations relating these subjects". The "15 Proposals for Our Planet" presented in San José, by NGOs working with local communities will keep on resounding "Wetlands Peoples Link", as the title of the Newsletter launched in the Ramsar COP7 and that nowadays continues with an International list by e-mail.
The governments from many States members of Ramsar, are taking advantage of the WWD to raise awareness on the need of ensuring the health of National wetlands and to put into practice the principle of "wise use", the keystone of the Convention, which is synonym of sustainable use, highlights Dwight Peck from the Ramsar Office in Switzerland. On this day groups of citizens, students, journalists, nature lovers, protectionists associations and Park managers will find imaginative formulas to raise the interest of their communities and to focus the attention on the value of wetlands. All wetlands have important values and provide benefits for the health of the ecosystems upon which humans depend, but some more than others. (4)
To achieve this vision of the sustainable use of the world's wetlands by establishing a Global Network of especially important wetlands, as well as the "wise use" management of all wetlands, continues to require the best efforts of governments, NGOs, academic institutions, the media, and citizen groups at all levels, from local to national to international. At first, to identify those wetlands that should be included in the List and then to proceed promptly with the scientific and political tasks of designating them, taking into account that many of them are seriously threatened by several factors including dams, canalizations or the improper management of water. (5)
Blasco is very clear when expressing that "as in all other aspects of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, people's involvement is the only recipe capable for long-lasting solutions". February 2nd 2000 will certainly contribute to raise the level of public awareness regarding the irreplaceable benefits that wetlands offer to human beings, of their unexplored potentialities and how urgently we must work in order to protect them from a rapid loss and devastation.
(1) At present it is called "wetlands" to the areas of transition within land and water, to the ecosystems of low water, temporarily or permanently flooded; also known as swamplands, marshlands, lagoons and swamps. The most popular wetlands of salty water are called mangrove swamps and salt marshes, on sea shore.
(2) In 1998 the WWD was organized on the importance of water for life and of wetlands for the water supply. The WWD 1999 focused on "Peoples and Wetlands, a vital link", the motto of the Ramsar COP7.
(3) In 1997, at the request of Fundacion PROTEGER and CERNAR, it was created a Work Group on Wetlands in the Argentinian Committee of IUCN. This Group has performed an important agenda that, hosted by IUCN-South and Ramsar Convention, included the 1st Workshop on Wetlands of the Central Region of Argentina, the Seminar "Mar Chiquita Lagoon and Rio Dulce wetlands: biological and socio-cultural environment in relation to the Federal Channel Project", the Seminar on Wetlands, Municipies and Sustainable Uses, the Workshops on Fluvial Fishing and Wetlands; and the 2nd Workshop on Wetlands of Argentina -Western Region (Mendoza 2000) to be also held by GNB/IUCN-South.
(4) The main success story of the Convention on Wetlands is its List of Wetlands of International Importance, the "Ramsar List", and is founded upon this "Vision for the Ramsar List", which is set " 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..".