2nd GEF Biennial International Waters Conference -- a Ramsar/WWF report


2nd Biennial GEF International Waters Conference (IWC) - Dalian, China (25th-29th Sept. 2002)


Anada Tiéga, Ramsar Convention Bureau
Denis Landenbergue, WWF Living Waters Programme

Objectives of the International Waters Conference :

The 2nd GEF International Waters Conference (IWC) was held in Dalian, China, from 25th to 29th September 2002. A total of 186 participants attended the meeting, representing 55 different GEF-IW projects. The Dalian Conference was the follow-up to the 1st GEF International Waters Conference, held in Budapest in 2000 and attended by Mr. Alain Lambert from the Ramsar Bureau.

Major issues :

On 25th September, the GEF IW:LEARN programme was presented to the participants (www.iwlearn.org).

IW:LEARN's mission is to build an Internet-based "global knowledge community" to protect, restore and sustain the world's aquifers, great lakes and river basins, coastal zones, seas and oceans. Sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its United Nations and World Bank partners, IW:LEARN specifically builds capacity among transboundary water resource projects worldwide.

This tool is very much in line with (and complementary to) the recommendation that was made during the Ramsar Subregional Meeting of Cotonou:

The Ramsar subregional meeting held in Cotonou, Benin, requests the Bureau to establish, maintain and regularly update, on the Ramsar Web site, a database indicating for each [Contracting Party], on a country-by-country basis, existing and planned/priority involvements of bilateral and multilateral donors in activities/projects related to wetlands (including wetlands and poverty alleviation, agriculture, forestry, etc.), seek at COP8 to include an Action (under Operation Objective 15.1) in the Convention's Strategic Plan 2003-2008 to develop such a service, and encourage donors to contribute to the establishment of the service.

In this spirit, we discussed with the IW:LEARN managers and agreed to explore the feasability of a future link between the Ramsar Web site and the IW:LEARN. This would provide to the Ramsar Contracting Parties and its International Organization Partners valuable information on GEF-International Waters projects, as well as give GEF project managers updated data on Ramsar's priority areas of work.

We also discussed the possibility for the IW:LEARN of organizing a demonstration of their tool during the COP8 in Valencia (to be explored).

The Conference was organized with plenary sessions and parallel working groups on four thematic issues :

- Track 1: Working Together: Transboundary Diagnostic Analyses (TDA), Strategic Action Programme (SAP), and Participatory Processes

- Track 2: Large Marine Ecosystems and Coasts: Experiences and Lessons Learned

- Track 3: Freshwater Basin Management: Experiences and Lessons Learned

- Track 4: Building Sustainability: Partnerships and Finance

In order to make the best use of our attendance, our participation was focused on "Track 3" sessions, in which we took part in all presentations and made one together with the Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), Mr. Muhamad Sani Adamu.

Our presentation of the LCBC-GEF (World Bank/UNDP) - Ramsar - WWF collaborative work that has been conducted in the Lake Chad Basin over the last two and a half years was made in three parts:

Firstly by M. S. Adamu on the LCBC as a framework for decision-making and action: origin, constituency, mission, institutional organization, areas of intervention, programme of activities, projects in progress, background on GEF-LCBC project development, LCBC partnership with GEF (World Bank/UNDP), Ramsar, WWF, etc.

Secondly by Anada Tiega with some background information on the Convention, its mission, definition of wetlands and their wise use, contributions it can bring to enhance river/lake basin integrated management, areas of work of Ramsar that are relevant to the GEF-LCBC project. More specifically, the application of the guidelines on the integration of wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management were highlighted. The role of river/lake basin organizations as a framework for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention (through national actions and international cooperation) was also recognized.

Finally, the objectives of the WWF International's Living Waters programme were briefly presented by Denis Landenbergue. Its mission and targets were briefly described. This was followed by a focus on WWF's and Ramsar's common objectives, which coincide with LCBC's priorities in the context of the GEF-Lake Chad Basin project. This was illustrated by the support provided by WWF over the past three years to all five LCBC member-States for large-scale wetland conservation initiatives, and by a brief overview of other similar (ongoing or planned) approaches in the Niger River basin, the Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa basin and others in Africa or beyond.

Our joint presentation emphasized the the importance of partnership development as a key approach for enhancing the conservation and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems at basin scale. In the African context, this approach is in line with the conclusions of the recent Ramsar subregional meetings held in Algiers, Algeria, Lusaka, Zambia and Cotonou, Benin, which emphasized the role of wetlands as an asset for sustainable development: these meetings recommend ensuring that projects for wetland conservation and wise use focus, as appropriate, on the key role of wetlands in poverty alleviation, including through their provision of goods and services to the most vulnerable sectors of society, food and water security and human well-being.

Based on our experience in the Lake Chad Basin, major "lessons learned" and suggestions were highlighted as follows :

-It is worth noting the coincidence of the location of GEF pilot-projects with existing or planned Ramsar sites. As recommended by the Ramsar subregional meetings, Ramsar site designation and management processes should be used to promote synergy with ongoing and planned programmes and projects, including GEF projects on International Waters.

- Our partnership highlights the importance of having a legal framework (similar to the "Lake Chad Basin Commission") that has a clear mandate to act on behalf of its member-countries on basin-related/transboundary issues, such as developing a partnership with international organizations, in this case the GEF (World Bank/UNDP/UNEP), the Ramsar Convention, and WWF, etc.

- There is a widely expressed interest in promoting similar synergies between "wetlands of international importance" and the development of GEF pilot-projects in other shared basins, e.g. in the Niger River basin, the Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa basin, the Lake Tanganyika basin, the Nile River Basin, the Parana-Paraguay River basin, etc.

- It appears as a priority to further develop regular cooperation between the national institutions responsible for Water Resources and those responsible for Freshwater Ecosystems, in the context of such transboundary initiatives.

- There is a clear need to encourage an increase of synergies/complementary between IW:LEARN, activities of International Basin Organizations (especially those executing GEF projects), and the Ramsar Convention and its official International Organization Partners (WWF, IUCN, Wetlands International, Birdlife International), e.g. by establishing a link between their respective Web sites and regular exchanges of information.

Our presentation was also an opportunity to discuss the operational principles outlined in the policy paper prepared by the Swiss Agency for Environment, Forests and Landscapes (SAEFL), Ramsar, and WWF prior to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

During the discussion that followed, the essence of these operational principles was considered with high interest in the context of the Lake Chad Basin experience. As a result of views expressed during this discussion, it seems that a review of the policy paper that would highlight a vision and a strategy to implement it through application of these operational principle would be advisable, while the "definition part" of the document should be included as an annex.

A large number of comments and questions were voiced, mainly by participants involved in basins including the Nile basin, the Lake Tanganyika basin, the Lake Victoria basin, the Senegal Basin, the Danube basin, the Mekong basin, the Sao Franciso basin, the Plata basin and the Pantanal sub-basin.

The need for a well-structured basin organization (or for its establishment where it does not exist yet) was often recognized as an important condition to foster effective integrated river/lake basin management.

The approach presented for the Lake Chad basin raised a wide interest. For example, we were contacted by participants involved with GEF in the following basins: Lake Tanganyika, Plata Basin and Pantanal sub-basin.

A question about "guidelines" we might provide on our collaborative "Lake Chad work" suggested the following comment from a GEF Task Manager: "it works well there because there are no guidelines. If there were guidelines, it would certainly not be so effective".

The last day of the Conference was dedicated to presentations of the main outcomes from each of the four thematic working groups, as well as recommendations coming out of them for improving GEF IW activities.

As soon as it becomes available, a copy of the final report and recommendations of the Dalian Conference will be posted on the Ramsar Web site.

In the meantime, it worth mentioning that in his conclusions, Mr. Alfred Duda - chair of the closing Plenary of the Dalian Conference - noted that regional assessments of GEF-IW projects should be presented during the next GEF International Waters Conference. In this regard, he proposed the Lake Chad Basin project and another one - still to be identified - in South America.

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