Inauguration of the MedWet Coordination Unit premises in Athens
Statement by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) at the Formal Opening of the MedWet Coordination Unit at Villa Kazoulli, Athens, on 21 November 2001
It gives me great pleasure to be here today at Villa Kazoulli in my capacity as Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Convention, for the formal opening of the offices of the Coordination Unit of our Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative, known by the acronym MedWet. The MedWet Initiative was launched 10 years ago by a consortium of national governments, the European Commission, international NGOs and our Convention. Now, through a Resolution of our Conference of the Contracting Parties, MedWet constitutes a formally recognized regional mechanism for the implementation of the Convention.
Before going any further let me express my sincere gratitude to the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works of the Hellenic Republic for having offered to the Convention to host this office in Athens and to cover all its costs during an initial period of two years, until 31 December 2002. This represents a clear commitment of the Greek Government towards our Convention and in particular towards the conservation and sustainable use of Mediterranean wetlands.
Secondly, I would like to recognize the significant contribution made to the MedWet Initiative by a Greek citizen, Mr. Thymio Papayannis. Mr. Papayannis was involved with the Initiative since its inception 10 years ago and has been its Coordinator for the past five years, until 31 December 2000, and he is now acting as a Senior Advisor to the Convention on Mediterranean wetland issues. There is no doubt that MedWet has reached this point of no return, being recognized as the first effective regional mechanism of the Ramsar Convention, thanks to his dedication, clear vision and capacity to breach the different cultures and socio-economic and political systems present in the rich web of this extraordinary region.
Finally, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Thessaloniki-based Greek Biotope and Wetland Centre, EKBY, that acts as one of the MedWet technical centres in the region and has provided significant support to Mr. Papayannis during his tenure as MedWet Coordinator. EKBY will be seconding two staff persons to the MedWet Unit as soon as the appropriate contract with the Greek Government has been signed, something that I hope will be done very soon, because the Unit needs to have these two professional on board as a matter of urgency.
I am also grateful to the Greek National Centre for Environment & Sustainable Development, and in particular to its Director, Dr. Michalis Modinos, for having agreed to host the MedWet Coordination Unit in this magnificent building. I look forward to a very active cooperation between the Centre and the MedWet Unit on issues of common concern.
Now Athens, in addition to hosting the secretariat of the Barcelona Convention, also hosts the office of the Ramsar Convention dedicated to Mediterranean wetlands. This should provide ample opportunities for the two Conventions to put fully into practice the Memorandum of Cooperation that I had the pleasure of signing not long ago with my distinguished colleague Monsieur Lucien Chabasson.
The MedWet Coordination Unit has a tremendous challenge in front of it. There are 25 Contracting Parties to our Convention that participate in the MedWet Initiative, from Syria in the East to Portugal in the West, including all the North African countries around the southern shores of the Mare Nostrum and all the European countries in its northern shores. In addition MedWet includes the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme, the Barcelona and Bern Conventions, a number of technical wetland centres, international NGOs active on these issues in the region, and three networks: one of regions within the Mediterranean countries, such as Catalonia and Andalucia in Spain and Languedoc-Roussillon in France, one network of national NGOs working in wetland issues, and one network of wetland sites where the MedWet technical tools have been or are being applied.
The Unit has an ambitious programme of work, mostly acting as a catalizer for intra regional cooperation in all directions, including financial assistance, and as a provider of technical advise, either directly from the Unit or through the network of technical centres so far present in France, Greece and Spain and hopefully in the near future in other countries, including Mediterranean countries in Africa and in Asia.
It is my earnest wish that the MedWet Initiative and Coordination Unit will receive further support from our Conference of the Parties when it meets in Valencia, Spain, in November next year, so that the effort made during these two years by the Greek Government will continue in 2003 and beyond.
On the one hand, because Mediterranean wetlands, while representing a precious asset for the region, continue to be under threat and countries need a strong and effective MedWet to assist them in responding to those threats; and on the other hand, because MedWet represents already a success story of regionalization within the Ramsar Convention, that should be maintained and replicated in other regions. There are already some processes underway to established a Black Sea Wet and a Baltic Sea Wet, and in other regions such as Southern and Eastern Africa and South America there is consideration of following the MedWet example.
In closing, let me reiterate my recognition to the Greek Government and Greek institutions, including NGOs, for their commitment to the Convention and its issues, and let me wish to our new MedWet Coordinator Mr. Spyros Kouvelis and his Advisor Mr Nejib Benessaiah all success in their endeavours. We have full confidence in their capacities and commitment and I am sure that they will raise to the challenge.