30th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee -- Opening statements

30th Meeting of the Ramsar Standing Committee
Gland, Switzerland, 13-16 January 2004
Statement by Achim Steiner, Director-General of IUCN-The World Conservation Union Statement by Peter Bridgewater, Secretary General of the Ramsar Covention on Wetlands Statement by Andreas Wurzer, WWF Living Waters, on behalf of the International Organization Partners

Opening statement from the International Organization Partners

Andreas Wurzer, WWF Living Waters Programme

Chairperson SC
Secretary General
STRP Chair
National delegates
Colleagues and Friends

It gives me great pleasure to address this meeting on behalf of the Ramsar International Organisation Partners.

The pressures placed upon water resources remain one of the biggest challenges faced by the Ramsar Convention.

The 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development identified many water-related actions in its Plan of Implementation. In particular it stated that "it is necessary to implement strategies which should include targets adopted at the national and, where appropriate, regional levels to protect ecosystems and to achieve integrated management of land, water and living resources, while strengthening regional, national and local capacities." Indeed a target was set by the Summit for the development of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and water efficiency plans for 2005. The UN designated 2003as the "Year of Fresh Water", which was a year in which concern about over-exploitation of freshwater has grown and more attention has been paid to the need to conserve nature as the source of freshwater. It was also a year in which the World Water Forum (Kyoto, March 2003) reaffirmed the need to implement the Millennium Development Goals with respect to people and water. Finally in November 2003 the baseline conference of the CGIAR' challenge program on water and food titled 'Water-Food- Environment' also re-iterated concerns for actions and awareness.

Many conservation organisations are aware of this freshwater management challenge, but the IOPs especially are aware that as a result the threats to wetlands have greatly increased. There are different and often conflicting views about wetlands and many people see wetlands as a supplier of freshwater, a purifying filter, or alternatively see their conservation as a use that competes for water against agriculture. This conflict is becoming increasingly complex and seriously threatens much of the biodiversity that depends on wetland for all or most of its life cycle, whether for breeding or feeding. This is where the Ramsar Convention through its work at river basin level with stakeholders can make a difference by promoting wise use of wetlands in the interests of both people and nature, and contribute to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation states that "Agriculture is the biggest water consumer. It uses around 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals worldwide. With a growing world population, agriculture will face more competition from industrial and domestic water users. This is why agriculture will have to use water more efficiently".

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 1999 publication: the Guidelines for integrating wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management adopted by the 7th COP, advocates integrated river basin management (IRBM) as a way of reconciling competing land and water uses. IOPs have each built into their work substantial initiatives to promote water conservation within a wise use context. Wetlands International with IUCN contributed to the development of these guidelines, while IUCN and WI supported the development of the Resolution on Agriculture (Resolution VIII.34, Agriculture, wetlands and water resource management), to promote an increasingly knowledge-based approach to wise use applied to agriculture and wetlands. WWF International has published through its Living Waters Programme, "Thirsty Crops", which emphasises that only some 20-50 percent of water withdrawn from wetlands actually reaches the crop. WWF also published 'Managing Rivers Wisely' that draws lessons from WWF's work for integrated river basin management. Birdlife International is engaged in river basin management demonstration projects and water resources campaigns in specific countries and catchments, and are providing some input to the Commission on Sustainable Development's freshwater theme.

We implore the SC to further strengthen their support to the STRP towards implementation of the key resolutions adopted at COP8. We urge the Convention's Contracting Parties to ensure that work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation will not be unduly narrow in its approach, and will apply integrated river basin management and the Ramsar Convention decisions to ensure that wetlands as the source of water are managed wisely to benefit people and nature. Furthermore we urge the Contracting Parties to articulate the value of the Ramsar Convention and this integrated management approach in the upcoming meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity and also the Commission on Sustainable Development.

I wish you all a resourceful meeting and thank you for your time!

Note: This is the text of Mr Wurzer's remarks as prepared in advance for the interpreters -- it is not a transcript of his remarks as actually delivered, though it's substantially the same.
The International Organization Partners are: BirdLife International, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, Wetlands International, and WWF International.

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