World Wetlands Day 2001: Uganda
Launching of the Wetlands Sector Strategic Plan 2001-2010 for Uganda
International Conference Centre, Kampala, 1 February 2001
Delmar Blasco, Secretary General
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
The Permanent Secretary, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here today because the launching of the Wetlands Sector Strategic Plan constitutes a significant event not only for the future of Ugandas wetland resources, but also for the worldwide movement in favour of wetland conservation and wise use that is embodied in the Convention on Wetlands.
Tomorrow, 2 February, is World Wetlands Day. It marks the date of the signature of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Tomorrow, the Ramsar Convention will be 30 years old.
The Convention today counts 123 member countries from all over the world, and a good number of other states are presently making arrangements to join the treaty. The current Contracting Parties have already designated 1050 wetlands for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance created by the Convention. These are wetlands of all types, from fresh watermarshes and lagoons, to lakes and river floodplains, from peatlands to mangroves, tidal marshes and coral reefs. All of them are wetlands of great significance not only for nature conservation but also for the well being of human communities that directly or indirectly obtain benefits from the values and functions they provide. Wetlands in the Ramsar List already cover almost 800,000 square kilometres. Uganda joined the Convention in 1988 and has designated only Lake George as a Wetland of International Importance. So, as far as the Ramsar List is concerned, Uganda is lagging behind, but as we will soon see, this country has been a pioneer in relation to the other main pillar of the Convention: the wise use of wetlands.
The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance represents the most visible and tangible achievement of the Convention. We have to continue building up the List and ensure the effective management of all sites included in the List.
Nevertheless, the other aspect of the Conventions work that is less glamorous but equally and perhaps even more important is the promotion and the application of the wise use concept. "Wise use" is the sustainable utilization of wetlands for the benefit of mankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem. At the same time, "sustainable utilization" of a wetland has been defined as the human use of a wetland so that it may yield the greatest continuous benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.
The Convention requires that Contracting Parties make a wise use of all wetlands in the territory of a Contracting Party. But planning to ensure the sustainable use of all wetlands in a country is more complex and difficult to achieve than designating isolated sites for inclusion in the Ramsar List. It presents a significant challenge.
Since 1987, when the Convention turned its attention more markedly to the wise use principle and began to develop instruments for its application, we have been encouraging Contracting Parties to develop National Wetland Policies as a means to achieving wise use. Uganda was the first developing country among the Contracting Parties to the Convention to develop a "National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetlands Resources". This was done in 1994. Since then some 50 other Contracting Parties have adopted similar national instruments. Uganda National Policy represented a forward-looking instrument, establishing ambitious goals and setting up the principles to be applied in pursuit of theses goals. They are worth recalling:
1) Wetland resources form an integral part of the environment and their management must be pursued in the context of an interaction between conservation and national development strategies and activities.
2) Wetland conservation can only be achieved through a coordinated and cooperative approach involving all the concerned people and organizations in the country, including the local communities.
3) It is of vital importance for wetland conservation and management that the present attitudes and perceptions of Ugandans regarding wetlands be changed.
It is encouraging to see that these principles have been effectively applied and have led to the launch of the Wetlands Sector Strategic Plan 2001-2010, and we should pay tribute to the Government of the Netherlands and to IUCN-The World Conservation Union for having faithfully supported Ugandas programme for all these years.
Today, with the launching of this Strategic Plan, Uganda is again the pioneer in the international community. My sincere congratulations to the wetland experts of Uganda and to the Uganda Government for this forward-looking decision.
As far as I know, this is the first country that makes wetlands one of the key sectors in the overall strategy for poverty eradication. In addition, applying to wetlands the sector-wide approach to development planning that the Government of Uganda has adopted also demonstrates a serious and mature manner of converting the rhetoric concerning sustainable use of natural resources into concrete action that deserves finance from the national budget.
I understand that financing the Strategic Plan in the next 10 years contemplates a 49% of internal investment, 49% of donor support and 2% of contributions from other sources. I very much hope that the donor community will accept the challenge of joining in a consortium of donors that will use the basket approach in financing the plan. From the Convention secretariat, we will be happy to support Uganda to the best of our abilities in obtaining the required resources in the international community to match the local resources. We will be eager to do so not only to assist Uganda but also to use your experience as a possible model for the other developing countries and countries in transition.
I invite the Uganda Government to work with us in the Convention Secretariat to produce an information document to present the process that has led to the preparation and launching of the Wetlands Sector Strategic Plan, so that the other Contracting Parties could benefit from this remarkable experience. I also invite you to organize a round table discussion on this experience on the occasion of the next Conference of Contracting Parties to be held next year in Spain.
It is a great pleasure to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Convention in a country that is taking its application so seriously and with such good prospects of success. We are at your disposal to assist you in making sure that todays initiative becomes a reality, for the benefit of the Uganda people and as a significant contribution to the protection of the global environment.