World Wetlands Day 2001: Uganda

03/02/2001

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2 February 2001
World Wetlands Day

Celebration at Lutembe Bay Wetlands, Uganda

Statement by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

Today is World Wetlands Day. A day to celebrate the beauty and bounty of wetlands all over the world. But why do so on this particular day of the year, the 2nd of February?

Because it was on a day like this, exactly 30 years ago, in a small city in a distant country, that the representatives of 18 governments signed an international agreement committing themselves to preserve and make good use of the wetlands in their territories. The agreement was called the "Convention on Wetlands", and because it was agreed in the city of Ramsar, in Iran, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the treaty is now known as the "Ramsar Convention".

Uganda joined the treaty in 1988, and today your country is among 123 nations from all regions of the world that are together under the umbrella of the Ramsar Convention to protect and make wise use of their wetlands.

For me, as Secretary General of the Convention, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate this 30th Anniversary of the treaty in the heart of Uganda, which is to say in the heart of Africa. And more specifically, in one of the most significant wetlands of this country, of this continent: the Lutembe Bay Wetlands.

Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds use these wetlands as their home. They constitute a great asset for the diversity of animal life in Uganda and for the local communities that, apart from enjoying the beauty and the calm company of these animals, can also make use of them as a tourist attraction and, thus, convert their beauty into tangible shillings as well, for the development of the area, for education and health, and for improving the earnings of local families.

Many people in many countries are getting together today just as we are doing here to celebrate World Wetlands Day. We have proposed to them to gather under the slogan "Wetlands world – A world to discover". Yes, to discover the many values and functions that wetlands perform in order to maintain the balance of the natural processes in our planet. To discover also the many benefits that wetlands provide to people, either directly in the form of products -- like fish or rice or reeds-- that are extracted from wetlands, or indirectly, like the replenishment of underground water resources that wetlands facilitate, or the help that they provide in diminishing the impact of floods by retaining enormous quantities of rain water and letting it go slowly, and not in a rushed and devastating manner.

So, let’s celebrate the fact that we have the privilege of being together in this magnificent place of Africa, blessed with such richness of water, animals and plants. Your are rich people because you have all these natural resources to use wisely for your development. And this is what your Government is doing. Yesterday I have had the pleasure of attending the launching of an intelligent 10-year plan to make good use of the wetland resources of Uganda in the quest to eradicate poverty, while at the same time conserving the productivity of these resources for the benefit of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have congratulated the people who prepared this plan and the Government for its wisdom in approving it. With this plan, Uganda is moving to the forefront of the member countries of our Convention, and we hope that the international community will see the significance of this action and will provide its full support to Uganda.

Let me take this opportunity to invite the Uganda Government to designate the Lutembe Bay Wetlands for addition to the List of Wetlands of International Importance that is maintained by the Ramsar Convention, for surely it fulfills many of the criteria for inclusion in that List. The member countries have already included 1050 sites in the List, and I believe that the Lutembe Bay Wetlands, and a number of other wetlands in Uganda, also deserve to be among this company, which includes the most significant wetlands of this planet.

Finally, let me invite the local communities in Lutembe Bay to become fully involved in the wise management of the Lutembe Bay Wetlands. They are a great asset that you have the obligation to preserve and at the same time the right to benefit from. This is the central philosophy of our Convention, that there is a vital link between wetlands and people. Using this link wisely will help people to have a better life, and by doing so people will be ready to help conserve the beauty and bounty of these special places.

Thank you for having me here today. It has been an honour and a privilege.

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