Report of the Middle East Subregional Meeting, October 2002

14/01/2003

Ramsar Middle East Subregional Meeting
Beirut, Republic of Lebanon, 7-9 October 2002

List of participants (PDF)

Ramsar Middle East Subregional Meeting
Beirut, Republic of Lebanon, 7-9 October 2002

Report of the Meeting

Opening and welcome

1) A welcome address was given by Ms. Lamia Chamas, head of the Service of Nature Protection at the Ministry of Environment of Lebanon. Opening statements were made by the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, the executive secretaries of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on behalf of Ramsar's four International Organisation Partners. His Excellency Michel Moussa M.D. Minister of Environment closed the opening session.

2) The opening statements stressed the importance of holding sub-regional meeting shortly before the Eight Conference of the Parties (COP8) of the Ramsar Convention, and the opportunities to incorporate the important issues discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in the draft of the new Ramsar Strategic Plan. The significance of coordination among the different conventions such as CBD, CMS, AEWA and Ramsar, as well as the important role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in assisting the governments to fulfill their different commitments was recognized, and the need for the creation of the Ramsar Endowment Fund to serve as a secure funding mechanism for the Small Grant Funds (SGF) programme was stressed. Highlighted at the regional level was the need for cooperation and capacity building to further the implementation of the Convention in the sub region.

Country reports on implementation

3) The Ramsar Bureau called on more countries in the Middle East (ME) to join the Convention, as the Middle East being the least represented region in the Convention, and recommended countries to undertake the translation of Ramsar material to their local languages. The Bureau also stressed the importance of countries reporting of all kinds of information, whether related to the implementation of the Convention, change in focal points or ecological problems related to the wetlands to the Bureau so that proper action, such as posting news on the website or sending expert missions to provide assistance in finding solutions to wetland problems can be arranged. Parties were also reminded that in order to obtain assistance through the SGF, good proposals should be submitted to the Bureau.

Country reports - Contracting Parties

Bahrain

4) Bahrain reported that:

i) It is in the process of acceding to other complementary conventions and agreements, such as CMS (Convention on Migratory Species), AEWA (Asian Eurasian Waterbird Agreement) and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)

ii) Two more wetland protected areas are in the process of designation as Ramsar sites, the first being a muddy shoreline and the second a coral reef.

iii) A biodiversity committee is being established to prepare a plan for the conservation of biodiversity; and

iv) A national environmental strategy and action plan are being prepared with the help of ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), and will soon be implemented.

Jordan

5) Jordan reported specifically on the Azraq Oasis:

i) At the meeting a case study would be presented on the Azraq Oasis, which is a Ramsar site and protected wetland area, highlighting its physical, ecological and human characteristics;

ii) Explained that there are constraints faced in the conservation of the Azraq Oasis, mainly competition with private well owners who have over-exploited the water table, leading to salinization and depletion of the water resource;

iii) Described the GEF/UNDP (Global Environmental Facility / United Nations Development Programme) project being implemented aiming at the conservation of the Azraq Oasis and involving different organizations such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Water and Environment, the RSCN (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan) and the University of Jordan;

iv) Noted that a technical committee involving all line ministries and other organizations has been established to prepare a contingency plan and map for the Oasis; and

v) That needs and recommendations for the Oasis included: preparation of a management plan for the site, conducting of regular ecological monitoring, but the financial and technical assistance are required for the proper implementation of the recommendations that have come up from the GEF/UNDP project.

Lebanon

6) Lebanon reported that:

i) Ratification of the Convention by law in 1999 has led to the declaration of 4 sites as Ramsar sites;

ii) Resources have been mobilized for the development of management plans for two Ramsar sites through the GEF MedWet Coast project;

iii) Legal instruments for the conservation of natural sites such as : Framework Law for Nature Reserves, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) decree, national biodiversity strategy and action plan have been prepared;

iv) National targets include the creation of a Biodiversity Advisory Group, the identification of new sites for Ramsar designation, the promotion of the wise-use principle and the creation of a biodiversity database;

v) The COP8 National Report format is important as a tool for the implementation of the Convention's resolutions, the identification of objectives and gaps at the national level. However, Lebanon considered that the approach is better for countries with an advanced track record, and does not allow provision of updates on some efforts or achievements.

Syria

7) Syria reported that:

i) A proposed water law, expected to be issued during the next year, is currently being discussed in the parliament. This law would give broad powers to the Ministry of Irrigation to implement the Convention;

ii) The Environmental Law, however, gives the Ministry of Environment the authority for the establishment of protected sites;

iii) A committee made up of relevant administrations (irrigation, agriculture, environment) is currently working on the establishment of a national wetlands policy;

iv) A National Ramsar Committee was established to increase cooperation among administrations related to wetland management, protection and wise-use;

v) An improved water-quality monitoring program is being implemented through developing laboratory equipment and training of staff in wetlands monitoring. It is applied monthly in all the wetlands, and especially at the Ramsar sites;

vi) The aim is to establish extension offices in all 7 of the country's water basins to implement the Ramsar guidelines for wise-use;

vii) It faces difficulties when conservation and development projects concern the same site;

viii) A Ramsar office will be established within the Ministry of Irrigation to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded wetlands as well as to prepare inventories, and formulate and implement the national wetlands policy;

ix) Progress is being made in implementing a Ramsar SGF project, with the first activities being awareness campaigns targeting the local community, as well as training the staff of the seven water basins in the use of procedures developed by Ramsar;

x) An approach to encourage the private sector to participate in the recognition of wetland attributes, functions and values is being operated, based on a successful example with the industrial sector;

xi) The declaration of new Ramsar sites (along with the one already declared), will be a focus for the coming year, while the long-term target is to establish a map and national database for wetlands in Syria.

Country reports - non-Contracting Parties

Yemen

8) Yemen reported that:

i) The wetland situation in the country and its different types of climatic and ecological zones.

ii) The benefits of wetlands in terms of both ecological and socio-economic terms;

iii) A case study on the Aden wetlands and lagoons stressing on their values in terms of providing habitats for important species such as the dugong will be presented; and

iv) that it has approved accession to the Convention and will soon sign it.

Kuwait

9) Kuwait :

i) Provided briefing on the status of protection of wetlands in Kuwait;

ii) Informed that there are currently four protected areas in Kuwait, and an increase in coastal protected areas is expected;

iii) Reported the establishment of an environmental court that will enforce the implementation of a hunting moratorium which (starts in October 2002, for a one year period), and the regulations issued by the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) for the control of human impacts on natural resources; and

iv) That joined the CMS and CITES Conventions in 2002, and is considering ratifying Ramsar and other conventions, based on the experiences resulting from its ratifying CMS and CITIES.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

10) UAE reported that:

i) It is closely working with WWF on issues related to wetlands and many activities
are undertaken in this area;

ii) The country is considered poor in wetlands, but it was informed that the Middle-Eastern region as a whole have misunderstanding about the Ramsar definition of wetlands.

iii) Due to the significance of urban pressure on wetlands, many activities are undertaken to integrate protection of wetlands in land-use planning as an integral part of the economic activities;

iv) Partnerships are being sought with the private sector and in particular the tourism sector to be used as a drive and financial support for the protection of wetlands as long-term assets for tourism;

v) Although the importance of joining the Convention is recognized, there are no talks on this issue in the UAE due to the particular administrative set-up (a federation of 7 emirates), and because of unsuccessful previous experience with other Conventions.

11) Discussion of major issues and opportunities for improving wetland conservation and
wise use in the region included:

· Improving regional cooperation and trans boundary conservation of wetlands as highlighted by memoranda of understanding signed between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and being prepared between Yemen and UAE.
· Yemen, as a non-contracting party, expressed strong interest in the experiences of contracting and non-contracting party countries in the region, as well as its willingness to share experiences and cooperate for the improved conservation of similar wetlands, specifically mangroves.
Bahrain urged that further attention should be given to invasive species, given that marine wetlands and shared waters are included in the Ramsar definition of wetlands, and more specifically, special consideration should be given to invasive species introduced from the ballast water discharge.
· In response to a question raised on the issue of climate change and wetlands, Bahrain noted that coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds are considered as carbon sinks. The Ramsar Bureau highlighted that the COP8 DR3 recommends Contracting Parties to deal with the interaction of climate change on wetlands at early stages, especially through planning for mitigation and early action.
· Noting Syria's presentation, the Ramsar Bureau encouraged the involvement of the administrations responsible for water management, indicating that this has become a sine quo non condition for the proper conservation of wetlands. The MedWet (Mediterranean Wetlands) Coordination Unit noted its wish to increase cooperation and involvement with Syria, specifically on the economic evaluation of wetlands, as well as the Lebanese Marine Research Center who wished to increase cooperation on the conservation of a trans boundary coastal area.
· Birdlife International raised the question of the involvement of NGOs in the implementation of the Convention in general, and in Lebanon specifically. Lebanon advised that protected areas management is done by NGOs under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment and that the general approach followed until now (involvement of all stakeholders) will continue within the Biodiversity Advisory Group. The Ramsar Bureau stressed the great value given by Ramsar on the involvement of NGOs.

Ramsar's Strategic Plan 2003-2008

12) The Bureau, referring to its opening statement, stressed that a major purpose of COP 8 is the adoption of the Strategic Plan for 2003-2008 given its value importance in guiding the implementation of the Convention. The Bureau reminded participants that the drafts of the Strategic Plan had been circulated for feed-back and that all Parties had been requested to prepare and submit provisional national targets for 2003- 2005. However, so far only 50 countries had responded. The Bureau was currently analyzing responses to identify proposed priorities for the implementation of the Convention. Indication was given to the participants that on the second day of the COP a Committee will be establish to work on the incorporation of the revisions to the Strategic Plan so that a final draft will be available for approval by the COP. Participants were urged to devote time to the revision of the strategic plan to make sure that issues of concern for the region are incorporated within it.

13) The Bureau summarized the differences between the previous Strategic Plan and the new one to be adopted in the COP 8, the main difference being the identification of five general objectives, the first three reflecting the pillars of the convention: Wise use of all wetlands; Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance; and International cooperation; and the other two being Implementation capacities; and Membership of the Convention. In relation to these objectives, 21 areas of activity were identified, one of the most important being: inventories and assessments, given that only 28 countries have conducted full and complete scientific national inventories of wetlands.

14) The Bureau indicated that the Convention, in line with the WSSD, should respond to the overarching need expressed by governments: to combat poverty.

15) Stressing on the importance of systematic and strategic designation of sites for the full representation of ecosystems at the global level,. Bureau highlighted that no country has totally implemented this approach as part of the Strategic framework adopted by COP7.

16) Participants were asked to give their feed-back to the Bureau to make sure that the concerns of the sub region are reflected in the Strategic Plan, which will facilitate the possibility for support from both the Ramsar Bureau and the international donors.

17) Discussion on the Strategic Plan 2003-2008, the following points were raised:

· Questions were raised on the incentive schemes to the scientific sector and on the means of conducting the surveys. The Bureau pointed out that an annex is provided to make sure that guidelines are followed for the harmonization of the quality of inventories. However, and given country and site-specific conditions, the proposed framework reflects the minimum requirements. The Bureau indicated the need for a political decision concerning the conduction of inventories and assessment. At a later stage, technical and financial support could be readily mobilized. The MedWet Unit indicated that a very flexible typology was developed to allow for flexibility in relation to each country's requirements.
· AEWA inquired about the level of implementation expected of a new Contracting Party in light of the non-hierarchal actions identified in the draft Plan. The Bureau clarified that the plan comes as a whole, from which each country can identify its priorities concerning implementation. Actions that can be implemented using the current human, technical and financial resources should first be identified, and the next step would be to seek international support by concentrating on one or more of the areas.
· It was recommended to use the Strategic Plan as triennial planning tool for the conservation of wetlands, so that triennial reports could also be easily derived.
· Further Bureau assistance was needed by Parties in the development of large projects, and there was a need for further examination of financed mechanisms for the Convention. The Bureau noted that its Senior Advisor for Environment and Development Cooperation had been appointed in recognition of this need to assist Parties in securing donor project and other funds.
· UNESCO, participating for the first time in such a Ramsar regional meeting commented that their experience in translating documents into local languages widens their outreach, and recommended the translation of the documents into Arabic to have people acquainted with the objectives of the Convention.
Enquiries were made about the inclusion of privately owned land in wetland inventories, and their status in case they are declared Ramsar sites. The Bureau stressed once again the importance given by the convention to ALL wetlands, which should therefore be included in the inventories, regardless of their status in terms of ownership or conservation. The designation of sites on privately owned land should be done with the prior agreement with the owners. Once the site is declared, it then becomes the responsibility of the government to honor its obligations under the Convention to sustainable use the wetlands.
· Concerning the extent to which integration of cross-cutting issues are covered in the strategic plan, the Bureau advised that there are specific activities about partnerships (activity 19) and about cooperation with other conventions (activity 13) that recommend the adoption of a holistic approach, especially in this region where wetlands are crucial.
· Cooperation with other conventions and regional initiatives was detailed, as well as examples given on successful stories resulting from listing a site on the Montreux Record.
· The issue of involving water-management administrations in wetland conservation was raised in relation to cooperation mechanisms with such agencies, when Ramsar focal agencies are environmental agencies. The Bureau suggested two ways to deal with this issue, a) to shift responsibilities to the relevant water administration, or b) for the responsible agency to make sure that water aspects are dealt with and coordinated with the relevant water and conservation agencies.

COP8 agenda and Technical Sessions and the work of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP)

18) The Bureau outlined the COP 8 agenda, and stressed the importance of all Contracting Parties to provide letters of credential for their delegates for full participation in the COP process.

19) The Bureau outlined the mechanisms for the preparation of major scientific and technical documents requested by Parties for COP8 consideration, and described the technical sessions that will be presented during the meeting.

20) The scope of work of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) was presented and its contribution to the elaboration of the technical documents for the COP 8 highlighted.

COP8 Technical Sessions

Technical session 1: Major challenges and emerging opportunities for wetlands, water, and sustainability

21) The Bureau briefly summarized the topics, rationale, draft resolutions and guidelines for the Technical Session, noting that draft Resolutions and guidelines and background reports for the Technical Session, recommend strengthening the involvement of water management agencies in the process of wetlands conservation.

22) Mr. Faizal Parish (Global Environment Center: GEC) introduced the guidelines on water allocation and management; on climate change and wetlands; and the third joint Ramsar/CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) work plan. He emphasized the importance of linking wetland conservation, wise use and water allocation. The issues raised were illustrated by factual examples and experiences from the international community.

23) Reflecting the concerns expressed during the first day, Mr. Parish focused on the linkages between climate change, sea-level rise and achieving mitigation measures through wetland conservation. The technical documents on this issue include guidelines for the identification of the roles of wetlands including in carbon sequestration and the identification of key gaps in current knowledge. Special worry was expressed about the fact that UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is concentrating on the Kyoto Protocol whereby wetlands are considered as a threat due to their high level of methane emissions despite the fact that many wetlands are also carbon stores. Mr. Parish called on Contracting Parties to give special care to this issue to avoid drying-up of wetlands as a decision for mitigating climate change.

24) Mr. Parish summarized the actions undertaken to enhance synergies between environmental conventions and agreements to avoid duplication of efforts and activities, to harmonize reporting and to improve funding efficiency. Among the successful collaborations the Joint Work Plan with the CBD were described, specifically the development of joint guidance for both conventions as related to CBD's inland waters programme. The Ramsar/CBD's River Basin Initiative was also presented and Parties were encouraged to give their input through its website, which aims to be a knowledge sharing mechanism.

25) Memoranda of Cooperation with CMS and AEWA, the World Heritage Convention and UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), and the Barcelona Convention have led to drafting of joint work plans and projects.

26) Due to the absence of a UNCCD delegate the joint work with this Convention could not be presented at the meeting, but the Bureau stressed the importance of this Convention in relation to Ramsar, specifically in this region where water shortage, water allocation and water management are closely linked to the issues of desertification. Requesting that Parties to define their priorities in creating synergies among the conventions at national level, Mr. Parish stressed the importance of long-term vision with relation to the issue of climate change.

27) Concerning the three topics of this session, participants highlighted the following points:

· Syria and Jordan wished to obtain more information on concrete examples on how water allocation and management can be efficiently integrated into economical activities such as agriculture. These examples could be used as guidance to help solve the problems faced within the region such as in the Azraq Osasis.
· Bahrain requested also additional guidance for the restoration of spring pools.;
· UNEP-CAMP (United Nations Environment Programme - Coastal Areas Management Programme) in Lebanon wished to obtain some information on Ramsar's support for the development of accurate wetland's databases that are a common gap in countries of the Middle East as well as Ramsar's view point on the issue of dams.
· A brief presentation was given by Birdlife International, starting with a movie explaining Birdlife's action and approach, mainly working on trans boundary rivers and habitats, migration routes and helping partners in joining conventions. Birdlife International then highlighted the issues of concern within the Middle-East region, stressing issues such as grazing, water extraction, hunting and water quality management in relation to human and not wildlife criteria. Birdlife also strives for the development of country strategies for the conservation of wetlands and recommends the updating of the "Directory of Wetlands in the Middle-East".

Technical session 2: Baselines for sustainable [wise] use: wetland inventory and assessment

28) Mr. Hassan Partow (UNEP) summarized the topics, draft resolution and guidelines concerning inventory and assessment of wetlands and their ecological character.

29) Contracting Parties have recognized the importance of conducting wetland inventories as a top priority for the proper implementation of the Convention, and given that baseline inventories are lacking in many countries, Mr. Partow stressed on the need for Parties to take the political decision on conducting such inventories and setting this activity as a top-priority.

30) Presenting the mandate and work of the STRP, Mr. Partow then explained the Framework's for wetland inventories 13-steps for determining the most appropriate inventory methodology for a Party's particular purpose and capacity. Whilst providing examples of proven methods and wetland classifications it stresses that it is inappropriate to recommend a single common standard as suitable methods vary according to circumstances. The framework also provides guidance on choosing appropriate remote-sensing methodologies for use in wetland inventory and recommends a common standard core dataset for all inventories, and a standard metadata record for reporting the inventory.

31) The Framework also includes recommendations for conducting monitoring and assessment activities in wetlands.

32) Mr Partow then demonstrated the use and value of remote sensing in wetland assessment through UNEP's case study of the Mesopotamian Marshland of the Tigris-Euphrates Delta. 32) The lower marshes have been long recognised as one of the world's greatest wetlands of vital importance to biodiversity including endemic birds and migratory water birds and supporting for many centuries the Marsh Arabs. Through canal construction and drainage schemes, by 2000 almost the entire wetland had been destroyed with many areas becoming salt encrusted and with little agricultural development. Between 1973-2000 85.5% of the marshland was lost, with the remainder being fragmented and under continuing threat.

33) Concerning wetland inventory and assessment, participants highlighted the following points:

· MedWet Unit shared their experience in the development of inventories and stressed the importance of developing general guidelines that can be tailored to each country's needs and capacities;.;
· UNEP-CAMP asked about the frequency of conducting such inventories, the potential assistance available from the Ramsar Bureau and the extent of coordination among different Conventions on the issue of inventories and baseline studies.;
· AEWA reminded parties that conducting inventories is the responsibility of the Contracting Parties, and they should coordinate the requirements of the different conventions they have ratified and adopted. AEWA also noted that inventories are one of the activities within the regional GEF flyways project and there will be available funding for participating countries.
· The Bureau indicated that Wetlands International has revised wetland directories after 10 years which is a reasonable time-span for updating inventories, noted the SGF can be used as seed money for such an activity and that the Bureau can assist in mobilizing other resources.

34) Concerning the case-study presented on the Mesopotamian Marshlands, the following comments/reactions were recorded:

· GEC (Global Environment Centre) asked about the involvement of the government of Iraq in the case-study;
· Syria inquired about the effect of the degradation of the marshland itself on the surrounding area;
· UNEP reported that they had been correspondence exchanged with the government of Iraq on this issue, but that there was no reply or cooperation offered by the government.

Technical Session 3: Global biological diversity and sustenance of human life: the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

35) The Bureau summarized the draft Resolutions that will be presented in this Technical Session. The main aim of the resolutions is to strengthen the systematic implementation of the Strategic frame work adopted by COP7 and to provide additional designation guidelines for the identification of new wetland types within the Ramsar List of wetlands.

36) Faizal Parish (GEC) noted that this resolution aims at the fulfillment of the Ramsar vision for the representation of global wetlands within the Ramsar list of designated sites. This vision relies on each contracting party's effectiveness in identifying and designating its sites to the list. Under-representation of some wetland habitats has given rise for the need to identify new types of wetlands representing eco-systems from tropical and sub-tropical areas (mangroves, coral reefs, coastal areas, karstic formations…) Numerous values of designation were identified, including the establishment of systematic international standards, advertisement of the sites, bringing policy commitment, providing the basis for management planning and monitoring and for securing donor funding.

37) Information was given on the Directory of Wetlands of the Middle East that was prepared in 1997 under the supervision of the Bureau and the coordination of IUCN (World Conservation Union), Wetlands International, WWF and BirdLife International. All information reported was collected from the focal agencies of the contracting parties. In accordance, and due to changes in this information, Contracting Parties were encouraged to update it and to activate the designation of new sites in their countries.

38) Concerning experiences in applying the Strategic Framework including establishing targets for national site networks, participants highlighted the following points:

· Inquiring about the designation of sea-water and inter tidal zones where there are no specific species associated, Kuwait was informed by the Bureau that up to a depth of 6m these areas fit the Ramsar criteria and definition.
· Lebanon asked the Bureau on the designation of man-made wetlands. According to the Ramsar guidelines, it was clarified that the designation of such systems depends on their types, e.g. lagoons, artificial lake and their association with important species such as birds, mammals, and invertebrates.
· A Rocha (British NGO operating in Lebanon) expressed concern about a case such as Lebanon, which is an important flyway for migratory birds and where all wetlands could be designated as Ramsar sites for their valued association with avifauna. The issue of selection criteria was clarified by GEC and the Bureau. It was stressed by the Bureau that the final decision a Ramsar site designation remains in the hands of the Contracting Party, and that the designation of sites depends on its capacity to fulfill its obligations as required by the Convention.
· AEWA reminded delegates that joining the Convention implies a commitment to the sustainable use of all wetlands, not only designated Ramsar sites.
· Lebanon raised the issue of accountability of Contracting Parties that do not always fulfill their commitments to the Convention.. The Bureau repeated that the approach of the Convention is the voluntary involvement of Contracting Parties who themselves vote and decide on the resolutions to be adopted.
· The Bureau made it clear that there is a misconception as to the position of the Convention.. Full protection and forbidding local communities from acceding to the resource is not at all the aim of the Convention, rather it is to find mechanisms to couple wise-use (sustainable use) and conservation and that many of the conservationists stressed that local community involvement is essential for conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Technical Session 4: Managing wetlands for sustainable use and human well-being

39) Mr. Spyros Kouvelis (Medwet) outlined the topics that will be addressed in the COP 8 noting that the STRP has suggested a "San José Record" of well-managed Ramsar sites to complement the Montreux Record of endangered wetlands. Specific guidelines on peat lands are being considered as a result of their importance and the extent of degradation. By adopting these resolutions Contracting Parties commit to the preparation of management plans for designated sites, to the revision of these management plans, to the monitoring of change and to the coordination among the requirements of different conventions. The guidelines apply to all wetlands and have been designed in a flexible way so as to keep a margin for adapting to site and country characteristics. The guidelines cover the issues of water allocation and management as well as the basic ecological information required. A thorough checklist has also been prepared to allow for quick review of the management functions and objectives.

40) In discussion on the challenges and priorities for implementing wetland management planning, participants highlighted the following points:

· Worrying about a change in the previous tool kit as a result of the adoption of this resolution, A Rocha inquired about the differences and changes that it could bring about to sites where the management planning process had already started. The Bureau evoked the compatibility of both tool kits, as well as the more comprehensive aspect of the new tool kit.
· Bahrain stressed that setting clear management objectives should be reflected in the management plan as an important component in the process of conservation and management.

41) Mr. Kouvelis summarised the approach approved by the Standing Committee for the provision of guidance on invasive species for COP8 consideration. It mainly concerns the steps to be taken for the eradication of invasive species. The joint work plan with the CBD addresses this issue. Due to the lack of information and measures taken related to invasive species, Mr. Kouvelis recommended the undertaking of risk assessment studies, the strengthening of cooperation among member states and increasing caution and monitoring of aquatic species due to their high mobility.

42) Discussion in relation to the issues of invasive species included the following points:

· Lebanon raised concerns that there is a lack of databases and in-country expertise for dealing with such in various issues and stressed the importance of raising awareness. The Bureau recommended the involvement of universities and research institutes for the collection of information and building local capacities through exchange and trainings instead of relying only on international expertise. A network of experts is however available through the four partner NGOs of the Convention and other organisations.
· Bahrain highlighted the regional experiences that have been or are undertaken and suggested that the Bureau should make use of the existing regional coordinating bodies for enhancing regional cooperation on wetland issues.
· A Rocha indicated that a great threat relating to the introduction of species is the lack of legislation and regulation, giving an example of crocodiles being imported to Lebanon. The Bureau indicated that the best way to deal with this issue is once again to cooperate with relevant agencies, such as the customs in this case, and their training to the identification of forbidden and endangered species.

Technical Session 5: Cultural aspects of wetlands as a tool for their conservation and sustainable use of wetlands

43) The Bureau explained that cultural issues could no longer be dissociated from the Ramsar designation criteria, as wise-use is closely linked to the cultural values and uses and other socioeconomic reviews of the wetland. The Standing Committee had therefore decided to discuss widening the current Ramsar site designation criteria to cover cultural and socio-economic features during this Technical Session of COP8.

44) Mr Najam Khurshid (Ramsar Bureau), explained the draft contents of the guiding principles.

Key issues for the work of the Convention in the Middle-East

Implementation of Articles 3.2 (ecological character), 2.5 and 4.2 (urgent national interest and compensation) of the Convention

45) Mr. Spyros Kouvelis (MedWet Unit) introduced the issues and materials that will be considered by COP8 concerning Articles 3.2, 2.5 and 4.2 of the Convention text.

46) Article 3.2 provides that Parties shall arrange to be informed at the earliest possible time if the ecological character of a listed (i.e. Ramsar) site has changed, is changing or is likely to change, and that information on such changes be passed to the Ramsar Bureau without delay. To assist with this, definitions of ecological character and change in ecological character, a risk assessment framework and a framework for designing monitoring programmes have been adopted. Other tools including the management planning guidelines, the Montreux Record and Ramsar Advisory Mission, and impact assessment recommendations can serve as assistance tools to the Contracting Parties.

47) The Montreux Record is a mechanism for highlighting different problems of reporting and addressing ecological character changes in Ramsar sites. The Montreux Record can be used as an effective tool to attract financial and technical assistance for addressing degradation of wetlands.

48) The full application of Article 3.2 should generate a list of all Ramsar sites subject to actual or likely ecological change. Through this article, Objective 4.1 of the Strategic Framework and Vision for the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Resolution VII.11) could be achieved, which is: "To use Ramsar sites as baseline and reference areas for national, supranational/regional and international environmental monitoring to detect trends in the loss of biological diversity, climate change and the processes of desertification."

49) Although Article 3.2 makes a precise requirement for reporting ecological change, no precise guidance is yet provided about how Parties should address such change, and therefore further guidance on the link between ecological character and responses to it is required.

50) In discussion on implementing Article 3.2, participants highlighted the following points:

· In order to monitor change, baseline information through inventories of wetlands are required. In the countries of the Middle - East these are lacking due to constraints related to lack of capacities and resources at the national and regional levels. The Bureau noted that assistance can be sought from the Ramsar Bureau at any level of this resolution, whether from square one which is the conducting of inventories and baseline surveys to the design and implementation of a monitoring plan.
· The issue of change in non-Ramsar wetlands was raised. The Bureau reminded to remind the participants of the holistic character of the Convention which concerns all wetlands and not only those designated in the Ramsar List.

51) COP7 (Resolution VII.23) requested the Standing Committee to develop guidance for COP8 consideration on the interpretation of Article 2.5, and in its discussions two key issues have emerged: agreeing criterion urgent national interest, and what component should be expected if urgent national interest is involved. The Standing Committee has prepared a draft COP8 Resolution on interpreting "urgent national interest" under Article 2.5.

52) Mr. Kouvelis indicated that the procedure involves conducting a prior environmental assessment, as well as the notification of the Ramsar Bureau prior to any action or decision.

53) If a listed site boundary is restricted or a site deleted from the List, Article 4.2 requires the Party to compensate, where possible, for any loss of wetland resources. More sites of equivalent ecological characteristics and at least equivalent surface areas should be listed to compensate for the loss of the previously listed one.

54) In discussion of issues of site deletion, boundary restriction and compensation for lost wetlands, concern was expressed concerning governments who would not have environmental issues as their priority and could therefore not use this article judiciously. An amendment of this article was suggested to include tough conditions and strict guidelines for the deletion of a site.

Ramsar's 'toolkit' of Wise Use Handbooks and how to make best use of the Ramsar guidelines

55) The Bureau briefed participants on the historical development of the Handbooks, which are based on the three major pillars of Ramsar: wise use, Ramsar site management and international cooperation. A description on the content and purpose of each volume as well as an explanation on the use to be made of these handbooks were given. Assistance of the Ramsar bureau is provided through: EXPERTISE, technical personnel and recommendation of network of experts, FINANCIAL support through the SGF, and encouraging COMMUNICATION between Contracting Parties. The handbooks can be considered as one of the means of technically assisting Contracting Parties in the development of policies, identification of sites, etc…

56) In discussion the following suggestions and comments were made:

· Lebanon informed that IUCN, Ramsar and RAC/SPA (Regional Activity Center/ Specially Protected Area) guidelines were integrated and translated into National Guidelines for the declaration of protected areas including wetlands.
· Bahrain informed that all the guidebooks and guidelines were used for setting the pillars of the EPA and adapted to the country's situation.
· Jordan reported that although it has several sets of standards and guidelines, the Ramsar handbooks had not been used.
· Syria's experience consisted of a training course financed through the SGF that was delivered to all seven water basin units in the country on the use of the handbooks. These are mainly used for technical support and for awareness and education purposes.
· Finally Yemen, wished to personally thank the Bureau for its perseverance and effectiveness in dispatching and following up issues with non-contracting parties.
· The Bureau wished that this meeting would be the occasion for the parties to initiate a regional initiative for the translation of the toolkits to improve their comprehension and dissemination.

Ramsar's Outreach Programme: priorities and next steps

57) Mr Najam Khurshid (Ramsar Bureau) described the work of the Bureau regarding its outreach programme, specifically regarding the establishment of the Outreach Web-site (www.ramsar.org/outreach-index.html) with discussion groups, preparation of further guidance on undertaking education and public awareness needs analyses and preparing a National Outreach Plan, and the designation by Parties of National Education and Public Awareness Focal Points. He urged Parties in the Sub-region who have yet to designate such focal points to do so as a matter of urgency. These focal points are one from the government agency responsible for the Convention and one from a national NGO with proven capacities in conducting awareness and outreach activities concerning wetlands. In the Asia region, out of 24 Contracting Parties , 22 have already nominated their focal points. However responsiveness and feed-back needs to be enhanced.

58) In discussion, participants noted the following points:

· UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Lebanon shared their experience with focal points and recommended that both human and other resources should be consolidated for the improvement of Contracting Parties' performance.
· Distribution of Ramsar materials as widely as possible would be of benefit, as well as their translation to national languages. In this regard, the Bureau strongly encouraged partnerships with the private sector, whilst MedWet indicated that the best way to ensure funding for such translations would be through including those assigning specific activities in through this funding project.

Financial resources for the implementation of the Convention: the proposed triennial budget for 2003-2005, proposal for establishing a Ramsar Endowment Fund, and access to funding through the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

59) The Bureau detailed the coming triennial budget to be decided on during the COP 8. A 3 per cent real increase in the Bureau's budget was proposed that would be used to meet some of the critical additional Convention needs, notably towards the true costs of maintaining the Ramsar Sites Database (managed by Wetlands International for the Convention), support for regional initiatives, support to the work of the STRP, and a contribution to the Bureau's costs related to the meetings of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. The Bureau requested all Contracting Party's support for this budget proposal at the COP 8 in Valencia.

60) The Bureau compared its budget and staff to that of other conventions, and provided specific information on the increases in Ramsar sites and contracting parties, which will require more staff capacity at the Bureau to ensure proper follow up and timely responses to the requests of the Parties.

61) Concerning the Ramsar Small Grants Fund (SGF) the Bureau noted that this instrument was seen as a very important tool in assisting Parties in their implementation of the Convention, but since it was becoming increasingly hard to secure annual contributions to maintain the fund, the Bureau has reached the conclusion that the creation of a Ramsar Endowment Fund provides the most promising alternative to funding the SGF at the level foreseen as being needed for the future (USD 1 million available each year).

62) The Bureau indicated that it has been seeking a closer working relationship with the GEF Secretariat so as to advise strategically on the value and priorities for resourcing wetland projects, and the Bureau was encouraged to continue to support the further development of this dialogue. Stressing that the Convention does not have substantial funds available to directly co-finance wetland sustainable use projects, the Bureau has appointed a Senior Advisor on Environment and Development Cooperation, whose role is to work with, and encourage, donors to co-finance such major projects and to assist Parties in the preparation of such projects. However, to be able to assist Parties in leveraging funds, they however have to define their priorities and clear activities and budgets to be funded.

63) In discussion the following points were raised:

· Middle Eastern countries expressed difficulties faced in working in any of the three official languages of the Convention and urged that costs of translation of key papers and materials into Arabic be considered for the core budget.
· Further details on budget allocations were requested by the participants.

International Cooperation for wetland conservation in the Sub-region

64) Leading the discussion, Mr. Parish suggested the following topics as potential aspects of enhancing regional cooperation: Fresh and coastal waters conservation, Migratory species, Linkage with other global conventions such as Climate Change (issues of climate change and wetlands wise-use), Awareness and training.

65) In discussion, Bahrain indicated that there are different levels of cooperation, namely sub-regional, regional and international, and that the Bureau should seek opportunities to benefit from the on-going cooperation initiatives.

How can the Ramsar Convention improve its services to Contracting Parties in the region?

66) In discussion, participants highlighted the following issues and opportunities:

· Increased practical information exchange and case-studies through the Bureau, the handbooks and the guidelines would benefit Contracting Parties in solving problems related to wetland management.

· More guidance on how to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of legislation, institutional arrangements for site management and the sharing of experiences in effective wetland management.

· The National Planning Tool and Report Format should be made as simple and clear as possible and allow for some flexibility in reporting issues that might be relevant to the country but not accounted for in the format.

· Continuous communication with the Bureau is essential to make sure that technical assistance is provided in case of problems with wetlands management, to post experiences and activities on the Convention's website, and to follow-up on ongoing issues.

· Better stability of staffing within Administrative Authorities is essential, as is informing the Bureau when staff has changed, as otherwise the Bureau loses contact with its focal points and cannot help them with implementation.

· The involvement of regional/international organizations in the meeting has brought considerable benefit to the discussions.

Conclusions and recommendations: key issues for the Middle East

67) Expressing their needs for case-studies and practical examples, the Parties recommend including such concrete issues within the guidelines and handbooks. Contracting Parties should increased reporting as such examples and on problems related to wetland management, so that increased technical assistance can be provided by the Bureau.

68) Increased support to Parties for the preparation of national inventories and development of databases (through hiring consultants to conduct field missions in the countries is needed).

69) Parties will seek to define their priorities as related to the Strategic Plan being prepared and will aim to improve the quality of the SGF proposals sent to the Bureau.

70) In light of the recent large-scale ecological degradation of the Mesopotamian marshlands, the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle-East, the meeting called on all Tigris-Euphrates riparian countries to take immediate action to protect the remaining wetlands and consider opportunities for wider rehabilitation, including mitigating the impact of dams and water control projects on downstream ecosystems and giving priority to the allocation of an adequate amount of water to the wetlands throughout the river-basin scale.

71) Given the information provided by Jordan on the Azrak Oasis, and given the problems faced there and the level of commitment of the government to the conservation of the wetland, 71) assistance for the preparation of environmental projects will be enhanced.

72) In recognition of the lack in expertise and capacity at the regional and country level, capacity building and training should be increased through the adoption of the Wise-Use Handbooks, through regional exchanges and through international cooperation.

73) Given their high representation in the region, it is recommended to include mangroves, sea-grass and coral reefs in the designation of Ramsar sites as these should be a matter of priority.

74) Marine and coastal ecosystems are often located in shared (trans-boundary) areas ecosystems. Neighbouring countries shouldl nhance cooperation on shared coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves and sea grass beds.

75) Water shortage is a major threat to the region, and improved management of fresh water resources to assist in the restoration of fresh water wetlands is an essential priority to make sure that wetlands conservation does not compete with other freshwater uses.

76) At the regional level, and since constraints faced are similar, special workshops sharing case-studies to help with problem solving for regional issues should be held. This will also enhance regional cooperation and projects, as well as improve communication among Parties and other countries.

77) Water allocation and management is seldom the responsibility of the Ramsar focal agency, and it is recommended to liaise with and train concerned administrations for the sustainability of water resources serving human as well as ecological purposes.

78) Concerning cross-cutting issues, each Contracting Party should establish efficient mechanisms for cooperation among different sectoral agencies such as ministries of water and irrigation (on wetland and water issues), and customs agencies (on alien and endangered species).

79) Climate change strongly affects sea-level rise and coastal wetlands, both being issues of concern in the region, and countries should have agreed to take precautionary measures in relation to climate change.

80) In line with the efforts at the global convention level, countries should enhance synergies among environmental conventions to improve performance and make the best out of the available resources (funding, focal points, communication of material).

81) The Bureau and Contracting Parties should contracting parties will work with existing regional cooperation mechanisms (gulf cooperation council, ROPME (Regional Organization, MAP (Mediterranean Action Plan), and LAS, Council of Ministers of Environment of the Arab states) to promote wetland related issues.

82) Reflecting the need for training and capacity building, Parties will consider holding a special workshop on good practices for the restoration of natural springs, rivers and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass and coral reefs.

83) Water issues are important worldwide and are crucial in this sub region. Parties strongly encourage non-contracting parties to become contracting parties to joining the Convention so as to make sure that all share the same approach and rationale regarding wise-use of water resources.

84) Countries in the region share similar ecosystems, and face many similar problems: The development of a knowledge sharing mechanism in the region for sharing experiences and know-how would be an important step to improve communication and coordination in the region.

85) Given the recognised importance of conducting baseline studies and inventories of wetlands, each country should work at its own level for the preparation of wetlands inventories and the updating of the Directory of Wetlands in the Middle-East.

86) Invasive species in aquatic ecosystems constitute a great threat. Therefore Parties should increase regional cooperation for the control of invasive species (including those in the ballast water).

87) Whenever the opportunity arises, countries should support work to improve the management of shared river basins and water resources for the benefit of all involved.

88) Countries in the region share a common culture and language: enhancing regional cooperation on training and awareness-raising should help countries to think together and find common solutions to similar problems.

89) Parties should seek to coordinate work being done on migratory species such as turtles and water birds.

90) Each Party should identify its priorities for the full implementation of the Ramsar Convention, and should give priority to inventories and assessment of wetlands, the and designation of a network of representative sites, and development and implementation of management plans.

91) Waste water and man-made wetlands are becoming increasingly important, and Parties recommend the implementation of new environmentally sound and cost effective systems for wastewater treatment to improve quality prior to discharge in water bodies, so as to minimize the effect of pollution on water and ecological systems.

92) In view of the meetings, site visit, and the presentation and information provided by Lebanon on its Ramsar sites, the meeting encourages the allocation of resources and other measures for the management of Lebanon's Ramsar sites, including the following:

· Reserve - Enhance water resource management, education and tourism, introduce environmentally friendly agricultural practices.
· Tyre. Ammik wetland - water use and partnership with private landowners
Palm Islands - Tourism management

93) There is a need for capacity building in Administrative Authorities and Parties should seek to ensure that there is continuity of staff responsible for Ramsar implementation.

94) Every opportunity should be sought to translate and disseminate key Ramsar documents into local languages so as to maximise their outreach and utility to all those involved in wetland conservation and wise use in the region. UNESCO has suggested that it could support in doing this through its regional office.

95) The approach of holding a Sub-regional, rather than a full Regional, preparatory meeting for COP8 was not seen as a valuable approach for the Middle-East, because at present there are four Contracting Parties in the sub region, which limits discussion.

Acknowledgments

The participants and the Ramsar Bureau express their sincere thanks to the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lebanon for hosting the Middle East Sub-regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention, for the preparation of the meeting and its logistics.

The Government of Japan is thanked for its financial contribution towards the cost of the meeting through their voluntary Contribution for Asian Region.

Thanks are expressed to Dr. Berj Hatjian and Ms. Lamia Chamas for their excellent guidance as chairs of the meeting and to all participants who gave an oral presentation during the meeting. We are also thankful to the rapporteurs for their excellent work.

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