Ramsar and the Arab States

The Ramsar Convention and its Relevance to Arab States

prepared for distribution at the 4th Training Course for Natural Heritage for the Arab Region, Morocco, 1-15 May 1997

The "Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat" is popularly known as the "Ramsar Convention on Wetlands" after the city of Ramsar on the Caspian in Iran where the text was adopted in 1971. The two main obligations accepted by Contracting Parties are to designate at least one wetland for the Ramsar "List of Wetlands of International Importance", and to make "wise use" of all wetlands in their territory. The Conference of the Contracting Parties has recognized the development of a National Wetland Policy or Strategy to be the key element for ensuring the wise use of wetlands. There are currently 101 Contracting Parties, which have designated 872 wetlands for the List, covering an area of 62.5 million hectares or 625,000 square kilometres, roughly the surface area of Syria and Iraq combined. The Convention has a very broad definition of "wetland" which includes not only lakes and swamps, but also rivers, temporary inland salt lakes in arid areas, coastal areas (including coral reefs) and artificial wetlands; such sites, including oases, wadis, etc., are found throughout the Arab world and play a vital role in the water cycle, contributing to the livelihood and well-being of vast human and animal populations, so the Convention is of special relevance to Arab states.

At its most recent meeting, held in Brisbane, Australia, the Conference of the Parties adopted a "Strategic Plan 1997-2002" which expounds upon the text of the Convention in ways which make Ramsar of special interest to the states of the Arab world. In the first place, the plan relates Ramsar (which is the only Convention dealing specifically with one particular habitat type) to the concept of sustainable development. While retaining Ramsar's traditional links with nature conservation concerns, the plan clearly commits Ramsar to the wise use of natural resources, and particularly to water, which is of critical importance in the Arab world and the Mediterranean. The Plan identifies a number of key regions of the world which are under-represented in the Convention, and among these is the Near East: at present, the only Ramsar member-states in the Arab world are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. It is hoped that the participants from these countries in the present meeting can explain the values of Ramsar membership to their colleagues from other Arab states. The Ramsar Bureau, or secretariat, will be making a determined effort in the coming years to convince these states of the relevance of the Convention and the importance of participation. Among the values of joining are:

  • the opportunity to influence world thinking on wetlands, their conservation and wise use, and their relation to the water supply cycle;
  • additional protection and prestige for wetlands included on the List;
  • technical advice on conservation and wise use of wetlands, notably in national planning relating to wetlands;
  • access to the Convention's "Small Grants Fund".

Among the sites included on the Ramsar List by Contracting Parties from the Arab world are: Lakes Tonga and Oubeira in Algeria; Lakes Burullus and Bardawil in Egypt; Azraq in Jordan; Banc d'Arguin in Mauritania, Merja Zerga and Sidi Boughaba in Morocco; Ichkeul in Tunisia. At many of these the Convention has organized technical missions and provided advice on management, based on the Convention's "Management planning guidelines". These guidelines are based on a very simple principle: first comes a description on the basis of which, secondly, long-term objectives ("what to do") are defined; thirdly, actual projects ("how to do it") are worked out; the fourth step in this circular process is regular review of progress, returning to the description to see the progress made, and - if necessary - to redefine objectives and projects, thus resuming a continuous circular process.

Another activity of special interest to Arab states is "MedWet", the Mediterranean Wetlands initiative under the aegis of the Ramsar Convention, with the input of both governments and non-governmental organizations. After an initial phase covering the European Union countries in the Mediterranean, a first technical project is being carried out, with funding from the European Commission, in Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Morocco and Tunisia. A submission to the Global Environment Facility has been made by Albania, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Tunisia, with technical support from MedWet. At the Mediterranean Wetlands Conference, held in Venice, Italy, in June 1996, there were governmental participants from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and the Palestinian Authority. The Conference endorsed a "Mediterranean Wetland Strategy", and a Mediterranean Wetland Committee has been established to oversee the implementation of this strategy. All Arab states have been invited to be members of the committee, and it is hoped that its first meeting will be held in late 1997 or early 1998.

Ramsar Convention text in Arabic
Current list of CPs and sites
Strategic Plan
Management Planning Guidelines
Info packs in French and English

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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