Ramsar and water resources management -- CSD 12, April 2004: Side event (press release from IUCN)


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Healthy ecosystems vital for clean water supplies show examples from Switzerland and Japan

New York, 27 April 2004 (IUCN) - The conservation of ecosystems is the basis for development, rather than an obstacle to it. At the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) meeting underway in New York, Switzerland and Japan presented how the application of the ecosystem approach can prevent huge costs, especially with regard to water resources management.

"We have drawn lessons from the mistakes we have made in the past. In Switzerland, our waters still suffer from the pollution of old landfills, which we have to clean at huge costs. One such site alone cost us US$ 600 million," said Ambassador Mr. Beat Nobs of the Swiss Agency of Environment, Forests and Landscape.

The experiences from Japan and Switzerland counter the paradigm that development must go at the expense of the environment, and that countries can clean up the damage once they have sufficient resources. Instead, the two presenters encouraged other nations to learn from their costly mistakes and establish environmental protection as a cornerstone of development efforts.

"The short-term gains of massive logging in Switzerland in the 19th century were eaten up by the long-term losses from erosion, floods and landslides. We learnt that investing a little in nature today can save you a lot of money tomorrow. Other countries can benefit from that experience," said Mr. Nobs.

"The Waterworks Resources Preservation Fund of Toyota City takes one yen for each tonne of water used, and reinvests US$ 3.3 million per year to preserve upper watershed forests. That way, we ensure ourselves of clean water supplies for the future", said Mr. Sishima of the Japanese Ministry of Environment.

Both in Switzerland and Japan, the experiences with the negative impacts of environmental degradation, especially on secure and clean water supplies, have prompted the adoption of an ecosystem approach to water management.

"In the Fushino River in Yamaguchi Prefecture, we have set multiple objectives and we work with all stakeholders to improve the management of the river. We need healthy rivers that support biodiversity as well as sound agriculture and industry", said Mr. Sishima.

Mr. Peter Bridgewater, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, underlined the importance of the Convention for the drive for integration in water resources management. "Everyone can learn from the experience of the Ramsar Convention: the application of cooperative, consultative, participatory and multidisciplinary approaches as a tool to maintain the natural ecosystems that store, clean and distribute water".

It raised the question what relevance the Ramsar Convention could have for the international governance of water resources management. Mr. Nobs said "Ramsar should play a central role in implementing Integrated Water Resources Management based on an ecosystem approach. Therefore Ramsar must be recognized as a major water convention."

Mr. Achim Steiner, Director General of IUCN - The World Conservation Union, who was chairing the event, offered the IUCN World Conservation Congress as the next forum for discussing this idea. "IUCN would be very happy to host the debate on the question how the Ramsar Convention can strengthen international water policy at its forthcoming World Conservation Congress in November, in the run-up to the Ramsar Conference of Parties in Uganda in 2005", he said.

The side event on the contribution of the ecosystem approach to water resources management was held at the UN CSD-12 and was co-organized by the Swiss Confederation, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

More information: Ramsar Convention (http://www.ramsar.org); Swiss Agency for Environment, Forests and Landscape (http://www.umwelt-schweiz.ch/buwal/eng/); Japanese Ministry of Environment (http://www.env.go.jp/en/); IUCN Water & Nature Initiative (http://www.waterandnature.org/v1.html)

For more information contact:
Mr Elroy Bos
IUCN - The World Conservation Union

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