Ramsar / UNEP workshop on Africa's wetland management strategy -- discussion paper

"Wetlands: water, life, and culture"
8th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Valencia, Spain, 18-26 November 2002


Developing further the Plan of Action to implement Africa's wetland management strategy under the Environmental Initiative of NEPAD
(New Partnership for Africa's Development)

prepared by the Ramsar Bureau

Twelve important issues to be considered for developing further the Plan of Action to Implement Africa's Wetland Management Strategy under the Environmental Initiative of NEPAD

ISSUE I - Challenges

1. The most challenging objective of the Plan of Action is to show the indispensable role of wetlands (as defined by Ramsar) in the agenda of NEPAD.

2. Actions should be taken in relation to the following internal factors:

a) Ensuring continued and growing political support to wetland and water issues, especially with regard to the contribution of natural systems in the efforts to provide clean water supply to the poor;

b) Establishing a multiple and effective communication approach that nurtures good working relationships between sectoral agencies responsible for water issues and environmental matters;

c) Improving the ability to collect, analyze and process information on wetland values and functions;

d) Developing and strengthening the ability to identify and address the root causes of wetland and watershed degradation;

e) Developing the ability to identify existing strengths and weaknesses and build on a more solid partnership between institutions;

f) Mobilizing relevant expertise and adequate funding at national level for wetland conservation and wise use; and

g) Establishing and strengthening effective partnerships between national institutions and local organizations to promote common goals through collective action;

3. Action should be taken to address the following on external factors:

a) Building partnerships with international players;

b) Making the best use of scientific information, relevant tools and techniques offered by the international community;

c) Mobilizing funding and expertise through international cooperation;

d) Assessing and mitigating climate change and predicting its impacts upon wetlands and people: droughts, flooding; and

e) Addressing the issues raised by an increasing globalization of trade and its impacts on agriculture, fisheries, forest and wildlife.

ISSUE II - Proposed vision

4. A healthy and productive environment in which African countries and their people have healthy wetlands and watersheds that can support fundamental human needs (clean water, appropriate sanitation, food security, and economic development).

ISSUE III - Essential assets to be maintained, improved or developed

5. The following two important assets should be maintained, improved or developed:

5.1 An adequate ecological integrity of wetland ecosystems that enables the best use of wetland values and functions in the long term; and

5.2 Suitable infrastructures that improve and maintain the natural assets and enable the sustainable use of wetland values and functions.

ISSUE IV - Some useful definitions that can help reach a common understanding of critical issues

6. The terms watershed, catchment and river/lake basin are used here to mean the area of land where all the water that is under it or drains off it goes into the same place. For instance, John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, defines watershed as

"that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community"

7. Watersheds can include lakes, rivers, estuaries, mangroves, small streams and the surrounding landscape.

8. As stated in publication on the Web site of Lakenet, "Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. No matter where you are, you are in a watershed!"

9. The relationship between wetland inventory, assessment, monitoring and management also constitute important lements.

10. Working definitions for wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring were developed by the 2nd Conference on Wetlands and Development (Dakar, Senegal, 1998) and are incorporated into Ramsar's Framework for Wetland Inventory (Resolution VIII.xx): They are:

Wetland Inventory: the collection and/or collation of core information for wetland management, including the provision of an information base for specific assessment and monitoring activities.

Wetland Assessment: the identification of the status of, and threats to, wetlands as a basis for the collection of more specific information through monitoring activities.

Wetland Monitoring: the collection of specific information for management purposes in response to hypotheses derived from assessment activities, and the use of these monitoring results for implementing management. The collection of time-series information that is not hypothesis-driven from wetland assessment is here termed surveillance rather than monitoring (refer to Resolution VI.1).

11. The approach and the scope of activity for inventory, assessment and monitoring as separate components of the management process differ substantially, but these are not always well distinguished in implementation projects.

ISSUE V - Guiding principles

12. The following guiding principles should be considered:

12.1 Seek accurate and pertinent information that can help raise political awareness, build political support and generate political and public commitment on wetland issues.

12.2 Remember that in performing their hydrological functions, wetlands save a tremendous amount of money.

12.3 Consider integrated water resource management approaches that improve the role of wetland ecosystems as providers of goods and services to a wide range of stakeholders.

12.4 Build partnerships that inform and involve those people who are most affected by management decisions to ensure that environmental objectives are integrated with social and economic objectives upon which depend those people living in the watershed.

12.5 As much as possible, use scientific data and pertinent local knowledge, along with available tools and techniques, to gather and process information and convey suitable messages to stakeholders.

12.6 Select activities that are focused on feasible and realistic objectives.

12.7 Take into account political, social and economic contexts so as to involve all affected interests in designing and implementing the strategy.

12.8 Seek public support through a better organization of the civil society to enhance transparency of decision-making process and financial a management.

12.9 Consider adoption of measures that clarify and promote the accountability of stakeholders.

12.10 Use local and traditional regulations whenever possible to enhance the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

12.11 Make the best use of hydrology to enhance the natural functioning of wetland ecosystems that support life.

12.12 Make a good combination of natural systems and infrastructures to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, especially paying attention to the role of wetlands, using appropriately their important filtering capabilities.

12.13 Pay particular attention to pollution from urban areas, from agriculture, and from industries.

12.14 Pay similar attention to dams and any important infrastructures that could destroy the hydrological values of wetlands and watersheds.

12.15 Use a participatory and negotiated approach to water allocation and to establishment of infrastructures

ISSUE VI - Issues of growing concern

13. There are a number of issues that constitute a growing concern for the region:

13.1 It is critical for all major players to have a wide and realistic understanding of the importance of wetland functions and their role in the hydrological cycle, as well as of the basis of sustainable management of water and wetlands. In this regard it is vital to highlight the fact that wetland ecosystems are adapted to the prevailing hydrological regime. The spatial and temporal variation in water depth, flow patterns and water quality, as well as the frequency and duration of inundation, are often the most important factors determining the ecological character of a wetland. Coastal and marine wetlands are often highly dependent on inputs of freshwater and associated nutrients and sediments from rivers.

13.2 A key requirement for wetland conservation and wise use is to ensure that adequate water of the right quality is allocated to wetlands at the right time.

13.3 The allocation of water resources is an important and increasing challenge for society. The particular challenge is to decide how much water, and of what quality, should be reserved for the maintenance of ecosystems through an "environmental flow allocation", so as to maintain their provision of their range of valuable natural goods and services, and how much water can be allocated for agriculture, industry, and domestic services.

13.4 To help make this decision, it is essential that the costs and benefits of maintaining ecosystems and their functions be quantified and compared to the costs and benefits of other offstream or indirect uses of water (economic valuation of wetlands and economic valuation of wetland loss due to human activities, including introduction of invasive species).

13.5 Managing lakes and rivers for their long-term sustainable use at the basin scale is the most challenging undertaking for Africa because it is costly, complex and lengthy.

13.6 Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of the benefits derived from taking a watershed approach because it is the only way to identify the most critical needs of each basin. It is a good framework for building partnerships and strengthening teamwork between national institutions and between countries sharing common challenges and common wetland resources.

13.7 In this regard, it is encouraging to note that in many African subregions, national and subregional organizations, including river/lake basin organizations, are shifting from immediate and short-term planning to a much longer-term vision: Nile Basin, Lake Chad basin, Niger Basin, Senegal Basin, Zambezi basin, Limpopo Basin, Lake Victoria basin….

13.8 In each basin, potential and actual causes of conflict, and opportunities for partnership through collaborative work between states and stakeholders, are to be assessed. Depending on the basin, the work may focus on different aspects of water conflict prevention: increasing civil society intervention, training of local communities and local authorities, reinforcing and clarifying the role of national institutions and the mandate of river/lake organizations.

13.9 The objectives of facilitating dialogue between national institutions and between states or countries sharing water systems, addressing the problems raised by privatization, and clarifying legal principles and regulations related to transboundary water and wetland management can also be achieved by successful river/lake organizations.

13.10 In addressing issues of globalization, it is essential to adopt appropriate management options to ensure that Africa can take advantage of the growing demand from developed countries for " biological agriculture products" and other natural resources: maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems, especially aquatic ecosystems, is the only way for Africa to be able to take advantage of the world market for agricultural products, including fish, honey and even wildlife products.

13.11 How to increase the availability of drinking water to a wider range of users, especially the poor?

13.12 How and who should identify the roots causes of water resource degradation of lakes, reservoirs, rivers and coastal areas?

13.13 How to make sure that the poor are not excluded from legal and institutional arrangements?

13.14 The issues surrounding invasive species constitute a growing threat to wetland values and functions that provide goods and services to humans, especially the poor.

13.15 There is an increasing urbanization that brings about more need for water.

13.16 Many of the largest lakes and reservoirs as well as the longest rivers are increasingly used to provide freshwater to people and their agricultural lands and industries.

13.17 Reallocating water among competing uses is an increasing challenge in Africa.

13.18 Increased water withdrawal from lakes, reservoirs and rivers must be accompanied by increased basic sanitation, especially for the poor.

13.19 There is a growing need for appropriate treatment and efficient disposal of waste water.

13.20 Water diversion is an increasing threat to the integrity of ecosystems.

13.21 There is an increasing need to clarify the role and responsibilities of urban areas, especially the municipalities and the relevant private operators in the treatment and disposal of wastes, including solid wastes and water wastes.

13.22 The important linkages between some wetlands and ground water need to be carefully considered in all integrated wetland management programmes.

13.23 Shared lakes, shared river basins, and shared coastal areas must be jointly managed by the countries sharing them.

13.24 The restoration of degraded wetland ecosystems should be got under way before they suffer irreversible damages.

13.25 Our understanding should evolve on the various goods and services that are derived from wetlands and the degree of social and political interests that are the driving forces about the decisions on wetland issues.

13.26 It is constructive to be aware of the various decision-making processes for determining water allocations and the scientific and technical tools for use in applying methodologies for water allocation.

13.27 It is also useful to improve the knowledge of implementation options and management tools for achieving appropriate allocations in order to maintain wetland ecosystem functions.

ISSUE 7 - Things to remember before making decisions on management options

14. Issues to take into account before making decisions on management options include:

14.1 Wetlands are important regulators of water quantity and water quality. Several types of wetlands are known to act as hydrological buffers, reducing peak flood flows and volumes through retention of water in surface and groundwater storage, and reducing the risks of flood damage downstream. Maintenance of natural hydrological buffering capacity also provides for greater reliability of instream flows during dry periods - this can be extremely important for people who are reliant on subsistence irrigation farming.

14.2 Wetland ecosystems are able to assimilate some biodegradable waste products, providing important treatment capabilities for substances such as excess nutrients and sediments, and improving water quality for downstream users. Some wetlands trap toxic pollutants such as heavy metals, which can later be removed for safe disposal, if necessary. The value of these services may be considerable, since technical means of regulating water quantity and maintaining water quality can often be much more expensive than the costs of retaining natural wetland ecosystem functions.

14.3 Wetlands and associated ecosystems also regulate the hydrological cycle through taking up water and releasing it into the atmosphere. For example, in the Amazon rainforest, 50% of rainfall is derived from local evapotranspiration. If the forest cover is removed, the area can become hotter and drier because water is no longer cycled between the plants and the atmosphere. This can lead to a positive feedback cycle of desertification, with an increasing amount of local water resources being lost. The cycling of water through the forests, including forested wetlands, is an important service for regulating both local and global climate and maintaining local water resources.

14.4 The poor in African urban areas are already forced to purchase clean water at a price as much as ten times what the people in developed countries are paying. If the degradation of freshwater ecosystems continues to expand, the poor will either suffer from more diseases or they will have to buy water at much higher prices than today.

14.5 It is urgent to identify, analyze and publicize the water quality and quantity issues and their implications for African societies in a manner that is readily understood by African leaders, all decision-makers, and the public at large.

ISSUE VIII - Root causes of wetland loss and degradation

15. Some of the root causes of wetland loss and degradation that should be addresses include:

15.1 Conflicts are often due to different perceptions of goals and priorities between national institutions, rather than promotion of collaborative work on common goals through collective and concerted action.

15.2 Impacts on wetlands can be caused both by human activities within them and, because of the interconnectedness of the hydrological cycle, by activities that take place within the wider catchment.


15.3 Human modification of the hydrological regime, by removing water (including groundwater) or altering fluxes, can have major detrimental consequences for the integrity of wetland ecosystems.

15.4 Insufficient water reaching wetlands, due to abstractions, storage and diversion of water for public supply, agriculture, industry and hydropower, is a major cause of wetland loss and degradation.

15.5 Many river basin authorities and water agencies have insufficient appreciation of the socio-economic values and benefits provided by wetlands in terms of their role in maintaining the hydrological cycle, their productivity (e.g., fisheries and livestock grazing), and their social importance (e.g., cultural heritage).

15.6 More crucially, many perceive wetlands only as competing users of water, with high evaporative demand, rather than as an essential component of sustainable water management.

15.7 Pollution from urban areas, from agriculture (especially pesticides on cotton), from industrial wastes, and from illegal fishing using poison are also major sources of problems.

15.8 Africa is still using pesticides that have been banned from the markets of developed countries.

15.9 Deforestation causing accelerated erosion on watershed is a major source of decreasing water quality and quantity, especially with regard to lakes.

15.10 Inadequate irrigation systems frequently cause salinization, especially on drylands.

15.11 The introduction of invasive species presents a growing problem.

15.12 About 50% (up to 80% in some countries) of the human population lives within 200 km of the coast line, and more people are coming there every day.

15.13 Many urban centers are located in coastal areas, while some of the most precious wetland ecosystems such as estuaries, lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs are located in the coastal zone as well.

15.14 All these root causes are related to the spread of inappropriate land use patterns that are encouraged by unproductive policies and legislation.

15.15 Agenda 21 affirms that "such integration must cover all types of freshwater bodies, including both surface water and groundwater, and duly consider water quantity and quality aspects management and other activities".

15.16 Agenda 21 also recognizes that "the fragmentation of responsibilities for water among sectoral agencies is proving to be an even greater impediment to promoting integrated water resources management than had[previously] been anticipated".

ISSUE IX - Suggested priority actions

16. The following are some of the priority actions that should be cosndiered:

16.1 Undertake an economic valuation of wetlands at least on one river/ lake basin and translate the results into simple appropriate messages to be addressed to legislators and all decision-makers, planners, local communities and local authorities, donors and the public at large.

16.2 Undertake an economic valuation of wetland loss due to human activities, especially the introduction of invasive species, and disseminate the results through simple appropriate messages to be addressed to legislators and all decision-makers, planners, local communities and local authorities, donors and the public at large.

16.3 Undertake the assessment of all pesticides used in Africa so as to urge countries to adopt laws and prescribe regulations that prohibit the marketing and the use of all pesticides that have been already banned by developed countries.

16.4 Establish effective coordination mechanisms that facilitate and encourage steady partnerships between national institutions in order to reduce the negative impact of the fragmentation of responsibilities among sectoral agencies and to promote collective action (agencies responsible for drinking water, for wetland conservation and wise use, for waste management, for pollution control, for agriculture, for navigation).

16.5 Establish effective institutions with the capacity to address ecological, social and economic concerns.

16.6 Establish a transparent management of wetlands and watershed through legal arrangements and enforcement of laws to reduce corruption and increase trust among stakeholders.

16.7 Establish a useful and pertinent classification of all wetlands within each country and each biogeographic region in order to facilitate the identification of critical wetlands for drinking water, for food security (irrigation and/or fisheries), for pastoralism, for tourism development and for wildlife conservation, for industry, for energy production, for transport, etc.

16.8 Undertake useful wetland inventories and wetland assessments that pay particular attention on the resource and possible ways to achieve tangible ecological outcomes through a thorough understanding of the conditions in the basin and the threats.

16.9 Some critical issues that need to be planned following wetland inventories and wetland assessment include: sources of drinking water, including priority ground water, and important habitats for biodiversity.

16.10 Identify and describe critical freshwater ecosystems that are essential at local level, national level and international level.

16.11 Develop and implement specific programmes to address the challenges related to the most obvious direct uses of wetlands through their services as sources of drinking water, sanitation, irrigation, energy production, flood control and industrial use.

16.12 Identify the most vulnerable types of wetlands, such as lakes and reservoirs which are very vulnerable to pollution, eutrophication and invasive species, in order to adopt specific measures for their conservation and sustainable use.

16.13 Using the watershed approach, identify and develop management options that address priority issues.

16.14 Establish and/or strengthen river/lake organization with a clear mandate and adequate expertise and funding.

16.15 Define the roles and responsibilities of major stakeholders, taking into account their interests and their expertise to facilitate the implementation of selected management options.

16.16 Identify and apply appropriate counterbalances to prevent degradation of those wetlands that are critical for humanity and nature before their degradation becomes irreversible (efficient incentives).

16.17 Identify unsustainable practices on critical wetlands and clearly define and apply water rights meant to protect their functions and values: for instance, make the necessary analysis of wetlands at high risk so as to become aware of any contamination on fish and other products that can have long-term health and reproductive impacts on humans.

16.18 Whenever possible define water quality standards, set a realistic regulation, and adopt positive incentives to protect vital uses such as drinking water. Narrative criteria may be used for wetland impacts that cannot be fully addressed by numeric criteria, such as activities that may impact the physical and/or the biological aspects rather than the chemical. For those sources of drinking water that are at high risk, including lakes, reservoirs and ground water, numeric criteria should be used to set the standard for the toxicity of contaminant and the contaminant consumed through water or fish.

16.19 Establish a coordinated efforts between national agencies, and between states or countries, for waste transport.

16.20 Use monitoring techniques that include biological measurements of indicator species that give information on the water quality.

16.21 Establish a dynamic list of wetlands at risk, especially those that are receiving industrial and urban wastes with toxic chemicals or toxic metals, such as mercury and cadmium and persistent organic chemicals (POPs), in order to raise awareness, build partnerships, and develop feasible solutions that work on the root causes of the problems.

16.22 Adopt appropriate legal frameworks, including enforcement arrangements, that prescribe and achieve the protection of aquatic ecosystems from pollution and degradation from development of aquaculture activities, illegal fishing gears and methods such as the use of poison or dynamite.

16.23 Adopt and apply national and subregional coherent and integrated strategies that prevent and/or control invasion from alien species or from excessive development of native species that degrade aquatic ecosystems.

16.24 Identify critical lakes that support significant human populations and prescribe specific legal arrangements for the protection of the health and biodiversity of these lakes: for instance, according to a recent study publicized through the Lakenet Web site, Lake Manzala, the largest of the Nile delta lakes, produces 30% of Egypt's fish yield, supporting 120,000 fishermen. Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa in Southeast Africa is home to 640 species of fish, of which more than 600 exist nowhere in the world. Lake Malawi's fisheries supply 50% of the animal protein in Malawi.

ISSUE X - Suggested management options

17. The following are some of the management options that should be considered:

17.1 Adoption of new concepts and methods based on closer combinations of the increasing knowledge of natural systems and the evolving engineering knowledge and techniques to manage wetlands and catchments.

17.2 Application of the ecosystem approach at basin scale to fight for a safe and clean water for people, making sure the drinking water for the poor is safe, by stopping pollution from destroying lakes, rivers and streams.

17.3 Application of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) approach through increasing and expanded partnership between the institutions responsible for water management and the institutions responsible for environment and those in charge of agriculture, including fisheries, aquaculture and livestock and relevant private operators.

17.4 Application the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) approach through an expanded and steady partnership between the institutions responsible for water management and the institutions responsible for environment and those in charge of agriculture, including fisheries, aquaculture and livestock, together with the relevant local communities and the relevant private operators.

17.5 Application of the Integrated River Basin and Coastal Area Management (ICARM) which is a combination of IWRM and ICZM. Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM, with a focus on water development through infrastructure) is complementary to Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM, with a focus on the maintenance of natural hydrological systems), which has come to the fore as a strategy proposed by Agenda 21 in Chapter 18 to implement the Dublin principles.

17.6 Adoption of an approach in which the management unit includes the surface water flow and the ground water recharge area whenever the surface water contributes to groundwater recharge or vice versa.

17.7 Using the power of partnership between relevant institutions to assess and address the challenging issues raised by invasive species, pollution of water bodies and aquifers, or watershed degradation.

17.8 Attention focused upon drinking water sources (lakes, reservoirs, wellhead protection areas) when the vulnerability of drinking water to contamination is of primary concern.

17.9 Attention focused upon the overlaying of recharge areas and recognition of the impacts of human activities upon surface water and the related aquifers when the protection of an aquifer is of primary concern.

17.10 Assessment and monitoring of aquatic life to determine the degree of pollution and the risks for human life in order to reverse the trend.

ISSUE XI - Critical economic issues

18. The following are some critical economic issues to be taken into consideration:

18.1 The capacity of African natural systems to deliver goods and services upon which all African people depend is decreasing, and it is urgent to take appropriate actions to reverse that trend.

18.2 There is a failure of effective communication about the real impact of weak policies and poor legislation on the ability of natural systems to provide goods and services.

18.3 Market failures are part of the root causes of habitat loss.

18.4 Rivers, lakes, floodplains, estuaries, and mangroves are almost the only accessible source of protein for the poor and the most valuable asset for livelihood and economic development for all rural people ( up to 80% of the population of many African countries).

18.5 Inland fisheries are especially important for food security because they provide one of the cheapest sources of protein to many African countries, even though other wetland uses are important as well.

18.6 Development decisions that affect rivers, lakes, floodplains and mangroves are often made with inaccurate or incomplete information on the economic contribution of the natural functioning of these ecosystems to rural livelihoods.

18.7 Water and energy supplies that are derived through wetland conservation together with appropriate infrastructures are key issues to consider.

18.8 Developing management options that achieve both food security and environmental security calls for more collaborative work between agricultural specialists and environmental experts, especially wetland managers.

18.9 It is important to be aware that the choice of some management options can lead to the transfer of wealth from a poor sector of the society (rural people) to a comparatively privileged portion of the society, driving the poor to become more poor.

18.10 It is also important to be aware that the choice of some management options can lead to the transfer of wealth from one country (downstream) to another country (upstream).

18.11 The identification of water management options should not transfer wealth from vulnerable groups to more privileged groups since it is recognized that a core objective of the Environment Initiative must be to combat poverty and contribute to socio-economic development in Africa.

18.12 Wetlands, Water and Cities: crucial issue to address in the NEPAD Action Plan.

18.13 Education and awareness programmes that involve journalists may cast more light on priority actions to be decided by African leaders.

18.14 Privatization of water services is leading to a decline in water quality and an increase in water prices in some African countries, and this trend is giving rise to activities against privatization.

18.15 More involvement of parliamentarians in wetland and water issues may encourage a review of laws and institutions relating to wetland and water management.

ISSUE 12 - Social and political approaches

19. The following approaches should be considered:

19.1 In applying any social, economic and political approaches, make sure that the target audience understand that the ecosystem approach is not focused on biodiversity hot spots and threaten species but rather on the continuous capacity of entire ecosystems (rivers, lakes, lagoons estuaries, mangroves and other aquatic ecosystems) to produce goods and services for human well being.

19.2 Drawing the attention of the civil society and the public at large so that citizens use their vote to ensure that they select people who care for the environment and water issues, in particular safe drinking water for the poor.

19.3 Drawing the attention of all elected officials because they have the power to protect water and wetland ecosystems.

19.4 Drawing the attention of traditional chiefs, the local authorities, the local community organizations, and local NGOs to the need to use a combination of natural hydrological systems and simple technology to provide safe water to the poor.

19.5 Drawing the attention of international organizations and the donor community to better uses of hydrology in water purification and distribution to various users.

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