Ramsar-related Recommendations of the World Parks Congress, Durban, September 2003


Rec 5.31 Protected Areas, Freshwater and Integrated River Basin Management Frameworks

The integration of inland water protected areas into lake and river basin management frameworks offers the potential of a range of win-win opportunities. These protected areas can link biodiversity conservation with water and food security, poverty reduction flood and flow management and human health objectives.

Globally the diversion of water for human consumption is growing at a rapid rate such that an increasing number of the world’s rivers no longer regularly reach the sea. It has been estimated that 54% of accessible runoff is now appropriated by humans. The IUCN-World Bank initiated World Commission on Dams has drawn attention to the impacts, social, economic and environmental from large dams; infrastructure that plays a major role in diverting water away from freshwater ecosystems. In many parts of the world sub-surface waters are also being exploited unsustainably.

Changes to river flows and other key ecosystem processes and the diversion of water have had a serious impact on biological diversity. WWF’s Living Planet Index indicates that freshwater biodiversity has declined at a much greater rate than in either the forest or marine biomes, declining by 50% from 1970-2000. This is also a catastrophe for people as millions of the world’s rural poor depend on the fisheries and other natural resources that have declined or are at risk of decline with changes in stream flow.

Protected areas are a vital component of conserving and managing freshwater resources, ecosystems and biodiversity. Their establishment best undertaken through the processes of integrated river basin or watershed management, including the development of an adequate network of representative protected areas.

Experience has shown that in order to be effective, integrated river basin management (IRBM) must involve full consultation with and participation of stakeholders, including local communities and indigenous peoples.

The destruction or degradation of inland water (including groundwater) and estuarine systems ecosystems is acknowledged as a key factor in the declines of biological diversity and water quality. It is estimated that globally 50% of wetlands have been converted to other uses.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has responded with its Wise Use ‘toolkit’, including guidelines on integrating wetlands into river basin management and the allocation of water to maintain wetland ecosystems. These tools complement the Ramsar Convention’s list of Wetlands of International Importance.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is also moving to escalate its’ response through the proposed new programme of work on inland water ecosystems, to be considered by CBD COP8 (through Recommendation VIII/2). This programme of work urges Parties to (among a range of actions) “…establish and maintain comprehensive, adequate and representative systems of protected inland water ecosystems with the framework of integrated catchment/watershed/river basin management.”

Acknowledging the strong linkages between human health and welfare, integrated lake/river basin management and freshwater protected areas, there is a need to work more closely with these sectors, notably organisations such as the World Health Organisation, FAO, UNIDA, development assistance agencies and others to gain their support.

The Linkages in the Landscape Stream of the Vth World Parks Congress has also noted that within an IRBM framework it is important to consider in particular protected areas within mountain regions to protect headwater integrity, and within forest ecosystems and agricultural landscape to minimise water pollution and land-based pollution of the coastal and marine environments.

The value of river basin management bodies, especially in the transboundary lake and river basin context, is acknowledged as a mechanism to see IRBM implemented.

Therefore, PARTICIPANTS in the Stream on Linkages in the Landscape/Seascape at the Vth World Parks Congress, in Durban, South Africa (8-17 September 2003):

NOTING that the World Parks Congress is being held in the International Year of Freshwater, 3rd World Water Forum,

1. CALL UPON governments, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, private sector, local and indigenous communities and civil society to:

a. UNDERTAKE systematic assessments of the development benefits of freshwater protected areas, especially economic valuations, as justifications for greater commitment of resources to their maintenance and enhancement;

b. SUPPORT the establishment and implementation of IRBM in which networks of protected areas and regimes of protection are a key development strategy;

c. ADOPT the new proposed programme of work on inland water ecosystems under the CBD (as endorsed by the SBSTTA), and to vigorously pursue the goal of this new programme of work; “To establish and maintain comprehensive, adequate and representative systems of protected inland water ecosystems with the framework of integrated catchment/watershed/river basin management”;

d. Within IRBM frameworks, APPLY the ecosystem approach of the CBD, the principles of sustainability and equitable sharing of resources and the Comprehensive Options Assessment of the World Commission on Dams;

e. INCLUDE as part of IRBM-based protected area systems consideration of mountain, forest, agricultural, dry and sub-humid lands, inland water (including sub-surface waters) and coastal ecosystems, as defined under the CBD;

f. PURSUE actions to establish new, or more rigorously enforce existing, environmental policies that explicitly protect the ecological integrity of freshwater ecosystems, particularly the protected areas they contain;

g. REVIEW, within each country, and take the necessary steps to develop cohesion between conflicting economic, social and environmental policy instruments operating against or impeding the implementation of IRBM;

h. IMPLEMENT mechanisms to harmonise implementation of international environment conventions and associated national policy and strategies relating to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources; and

i. GIVE PRIORITY to achieving the Ramsar Convention’s vision “To develop and maintain an international network of wetlands [inland water ecosystems] which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the ecological and hydrological functions they perform.” and the associated targets of reaching 250 million hectares and 2000 Ramsar sites by the end of 2010, and, also pursue the expansion of the network to include representative examples of all aquatic ecosystem types designated within the Ramsar strategic prioritization framework;

2. REQUEST the United Nations to extend the Year of Freshwater (2003) to a Decade of Freshwater, in recognition of the global water crisis, and for systematic protected area establishment to be a pillar of these global efforts;

3. URGE that where river basins or inland water ecosystems are shared between two or more countries, governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, local and indigenous communities and civil society;


a. Transboundary declarations of protected areas under an appropriate international instrument (World Heritage, Ramsar Convention, Man and the Biosphere etc);

b. Strengthening existing, or seek the establishment of lake or river basin management entities and strategies to promote the conservation of biological diversity and the peaceful and equitable sharing of water resources; and

c. Achievement of the target of IRBM operating within at least 50 international lake and river basins by 2010;

5. ENCOURAGE the protected area, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use multilateral environment agreements to continue, and intensify their current efforts to harmonise the development of approaches and tools to guide Parties with the development and maintenance of protected area systems, including the River Basin Initiative supported jointly by CBD and the Ramsar Convention;

6. CALL UPON IUCN working with governments, other non-governmental organizations, local and indigenous communities and civil society to ensure adequate representation of threatened species from the freshwater biome on the IUCN Red List;

7. URGE IUCN to:

a. Work with the Parties and Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Ramsar Convention to promote application of the IUCN categories to the global network of over 1,300 freshwater and coastal Wetlands of International Importance, noting that this network, the world’s most extensive protected area systems, includes sites that cover all the IUCN categories; and

b. Foster collaborative approaches to the establishment and management of freshwater protected area with relevant global bodies across sectors such a human health, water supply and drainage, agriculture, hydro power, etc;

8. REQUEST that the WCPA report on progress with implementing this recommendation to the next Ramsar COP and VI World Parks Congress.

Stream: Linkages in the Landscape/Seascape

Stream Lead: Peter Bridgewater

Recommendation Title
Rec 5.09 Integrated Landscape Management to Support Protected Areas
Rec 5.10 Policy Linkages between Relevant International Conventions and Programmes in Integrating Protected Areas in the Wider Landscape/Seascape
Rec 5.11 A Global Network to Support the Development of Transboundary Conservation Initiatives
Rec 5.20 Preventing and Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflicts
Rec 5.28 Protected areas: mining and energy
Rec 5.31 Protected areas, freshwater and integrated river basin management frameworks
The full report and other outputs of the WPC stream on "Linkages in the Landscape and Seascape" are available on the Web site of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), http://www.iucn.org/themes/cem/linkages.htm.
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