World Water Forum IV -- a brief Ramsar report
RAMSAR AT THE WORLD WATER FORUM 4, MEXICO CITY, MARCH 2006
-- a brief report by Ramsar Secretary General Peter Bridgewater
Ramsar was represented at the WWFIV during the duration by the Secretary General, the Senior Regional Adviser for the Americas (also attending another regional event), Spyros Kouvelis (the Medwet Coordinator) who was a judge in the film festival organised at the time of the Forum, and Sebastià Semene, who was in charge of the Ramsar Game and other outreach activities undertaken with the assistance of Groupe Danone.
The Secretary General made presentations at two of the very numerous panels, and attended and presented at the ministerial level meetings. Copies of the presentations are below. The Senior Regional Adviser for the Americas attended some of the regionally relevant events.
From the 16th to the 22nd of March, the Ramsar Convention was present at the Water Fair of the 4th World Water Forum with a 60m2 stand presenting the Ramsar Game.
The stand was designed with two separate areas: one for the game itself, and the second one for an exhibition on Mexico's wetlands. This second part was called the "information area" where information material about Ramsar (Ramsar leaflet, "what's in water" leaflet, WWD06 stickers, etc.) was distributed.
The game itself was adapted to Mexico, from the "international" version developed by the Secretariat and distributed to all delegates during COP9. The adaptation was made by CECADESU/SEMARNAT (the area in the Mexican Environment Department dealing with outreach), adding more questions or adapting the existing ones to issues particularly relevant for Mexico (i.e., "what is the largest river in Mexico", instead of "what is the largest river in the world").
The game board was produced in large format (3m x 4.5m) to allow people to play by teams, where one of the players moves on the board as the token. This enabled interactivity with the animators of the game.
The stand was possible thanks to the collaboration of Bonafont (DANONE - Mexico), who provided sponsorship for the activity, as well as a team of volunteers to provide water to the participants and the public at the stand during the forum.
CECADESU/SEMARNAT provided the two animators who animated the game during the Forum.
After some complications to get the stand into Mexico, because of the customs process, which was resolved speedily thanks to the help of UNEP-Mexico, the stand was established on the 16th of March.
An average of 80 people passed through the stand and played the Ramsar Game everyday (approx. 600 people in total, and a maximum of 114 people on the last day of the Forum). Each team participating received a t-shirt, some water and a portable FM radio player, courtesy of Bonafont, and a coffeetable book on wetlands from Ramsar during the last two days. The game was played mainly in Spanish, but also in English, when required. Groups of children were organised in the morning, while afternoons were open to a wider public.
5000 flyers were distributed during the last three days of the Forum to advertise the stand and invite more delegates to play.
Balance and evaluation of the stand
The most striking aspect of the Ramsar Game stand is the high participation of people, from all ages. The game seems to be as effective with adults as with children, and is a good communications tool about Ramsar, as well as the water issues in general.
The presence of a sponsor like Bonafont at the Forum was very important for the success of the stand. Having professional animators to lead the game seems to be essential. The stand at WWF4 could be considered as a test for the future. A discussion with Bonafont allowed us to think the game was a big success and the first step of a partnership between Bonafont and SEMARNAT.
The game will now move to Pátzcuaro (México) for the Environment Fair and will then be given, for three months, to Papalote, a museum for children located in Mexico, DF.
A more complete report with pictures and video footage of the stand will follow in the next few days.
Evian Encounters '07
On the 20th of March, a high-level dinner was organised, in the framework of the 4th World Water Forum. This event was aimed at introducing the concept of the Evian Encounters '07, held in partnership with DANONE/Evian.
The dinner was an opportunity to discuss with the representatives of DANONE and several invitees the relevance of the Evian Encounters project for 2007. This project envisages a high-level but informal workshop in Evian, France, to examine the issues of wetlands and water in the context of environmental and human security.
DANONE reaffirmed its commitment and interest for this project, and in the following days, informal discussions with ministers and head of delegations during the Forum allowed us to share points of view on the idea and confirm the relevance of the project.
SECRETARY GENERAL'S PRESENTATION TO THE SESSION ON PADDY WATER SYSTEMS
The Ramsar Convention has a clear definition of wetlands under the Convention's Articles 1.1 and 2.1 as:
"For the purpose of this Convention wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres."
Article 2.1 provides that wetlands:
"may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands".
For Ramsar wetlands include also human-made wetlands, and particularly rice paddies are included under wetland types 3 & 4
3 -- Irrigated land; includes irrigation channels and rice fields.
4 -- Seasonally flooded agricultural land (including intensively managed or grazed wet meadow or pasture).
Ramsar also defines the
Wise use of wetlands as the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development, where Ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.
There are currently 10 rice paddy sites world wide, a very small portion of the nearly 1600 total sites. Their distribution is;
The International Network for Water and Ecosystem in Paddy Fields (INWEPF), recognises the multiple use, roles, values, services and other aspects of agricultural water in paddy farming regions.
Like INWEPF the Convention fully recognises that paddy water systems provide not only water for food production but also a broad spectrum of ecosystem services related to society, culture and the environment. In particular the Convention is placing increasing emphasis on incorporating the traditional wisdom and experiences of local communities, and aims to promote multifunctionality in management
In particular the Convention has built a body of knowledge and advice on managing human-made, semi-natural and natural wetlands in complex mosaics, so as to maximise ecosystem benefits.
There is an important future together; promoting Contracting Parties, as well as countries not yet parties to the Convention, to consider nominating paddy water systems for inclusion as Wetlands of International Importance, especially in the Americas.
SECRETARY GENERAL'S PRESENTATION TO THE IWMI-ORGANIZED SESSION ON THE COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT ON WATER MANAGEMENT IN AGRICULTURE (CA)
A convention like the Ramsar Convention, traditionally associated with conservation of wetlands, would seem to have no place in a discussion on water management in agriculture.
So the message which I am supposed to comment on, "Enhance a range of ecosystem services when practicing agriculture," would seem nonsense .
And agriculture has a reputation of taking water, too much water, from ecosystems. And so the reaction would typically be, but wetland conservation is simply incompatible with agriculture .
Yet this view is a typically late C20th one. For many of the sites now enthusiastically nominated as sites of International importance under the Convention are the product of human intervention, even human creation. And the rich biodiversity of wet meadows comes not just from natural processes but centuries of human interventions.
But in this century we have become more aware of the concept of ecological services provided from our ecosystems - they are not just sources of colorful flowers, butterflies, and birds - they are the planet's controllers, they help us breathe, eat, drink, have shelter and have satisfied souls .
But at the same time we now have agricultural practices that are sometimes more intrusive and intensive than those of the past, and the balance can be upset.
Ramsar is setting out to identify the key new issue, i.e., balancing water for human needs, and water for ecological needs, through an ecosystem approach.
We have a focus on the wise use of wetlands, defined as : the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development, where ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.
So, can we afford to think "what water can we allow for natural ecosystems?"
Or, should we instead think: How much water can we risk taking from our ecosystems?
This way starts to implement an ecosystem approach, where the needs of people and ecosystems became viewed together.
Finally, we need to:
- Develop tools for the integrated management of species, ecosystems and people.
- Integrate the concerns for the conservation and wise use of biodiversity and water into the broader environmental agenda.
- And so be part of the global partnership to ensure that we have water for food and ecosystems - or perhaps better ecosystems for water and food!
SECRETARY GENERAL'S PRESENTATION TO THE HIGH-LEVEL SESSION ON WATER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
At COP9 held in Uganda November 2005, the 150 Contracting Parties to the Convention acknowledged the United Nations "World Water Development Report", showing the worsening water crisis due to water mismanagement, and recognized that global climate change and variability are likely to exacerbate this crisis.
The COP also noted the actions undertaken in the framework of the MDGs and the outcomes of the WSSD in 2002, as well as CSD13, and the FAO Netherlands conference on water for food and ecosystems.
The COP recognized that wetland ecosystems play a critical role in water management, and also understood that wetlands play a crucial role in relation to poverty reduction and natural disaster preparedness, mitigation and adaptation, which was taken up by separate detailed resolutions.
In determining future actions the COP:
- Affirmed that the conservation and wise use of wetlands is critical for the provision of water for people and nature, and that wetlands are a source, as well as a user, of water, in addition to supplying a range of other ecosystem services;
- Also affirmed that priorities for water management should reflect the goals of safekeeping and maintaining water resources, as well as maintaining the ecological character of wetlands;
- Called on Contracting Parties to bring the body of knowledge resident in the Conventions work to the attention of national, regional and local authorities in charge of water management for their integration into, and their multisectoral implementation through, national Integrated Water Resources Management plans so as to include an ecosystem approach consistent with the Ramsar Convention;
- Renewed its call to governments and institutions at all levels to ensure that the maintenance of wetlands and their functions are fully taken into account in the design, planning and implementation of water-related projects, poverty reduction strategy papers, and coastal zone planning;
- Requested the Ramsar Secretariat to cooperate with the Secretariat of the Fourth World Water Forum (Mexico, 2006) and other relevant global and regional water initiatives in the future in order to ensure that the importance of wetland ecosystem benefits/services is recognized in the Forum outputs as a key element to effectively managing water resources whilst maintaining the ecosystem functioning of wetlands.
We have seen considerable exposition on the importance of wetland ecosystems in the water debate in the exhibits, in the film competition, in the presentations, and in this roundtable. I hope this high-level meeting will also take full note of this issue and as part of the water debate recognise the role that wetland ecosystems play in protecting, producing and purifying the global water resource.