Building capacity for Ramsar CEPA Focal Points in central Asia and eastern Europe, Urmia Lake, I.R Iran from 9-13 August

Building capacity for Ramsar CEPA Focal Points in central Asia and eastern Europe, Urmia Lake, I.R Iran from 9-13 August

26 August 2010
Iran (Islamic Republic of)

The third in a series of workshops for Ramsar CEPA Focal Points brought together CEPA Focal Points and other representatives from 14 countries from central Asia and eastern Europe from 9-13 August. The workshop took place at the Bari Resort on the shores of the beautiful Lake Urmia, a 483,000-hectare Ramsar Site in the north west of the country.

Participants and facilitators at the workshop

The workshop was jointly organised by the Ramsar Secretariat and the Ramsar Regional Centre – Central & West Asia, and jointly funded through the Centre and the Convention’s private sector partner, the Danone Fund for Water. Some travel support was helpfully provided through the Convention’s Biosphere Connections partnership.

Why a workshop?

Ramsar’s CEPA Programme, adopted as Resolution X.8, urges the Ramsar Secretariat to strengthen the capacity of the nominated CEPA National Focal Points (NFPs), both Government and NGO, through the provision of training and toolkits. Under the Resolution, the CEPA Focal Points are expected to play a leading role in delivering one of the key requirements of the Resolution – CEPA action planning at some level whether it be national, sub-national, catchment or local site level.

On the 9th, a welcome and opening remarks were delivered by Mr Tofigh Sedigh from Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Sandra Hails the Ramsar Secretariat’s CEPA Programme Officer.

Initial presentations introduced all participants to the main elements of the Convention’s CEPA programme, its key goals, key implementers, specific roles for the CEPA NFPs, available CEPA tools, and the need for CEPA planning. Throughout the workshop, presentations were made on planning processes covering such challenges as identifying target groups, setting objectives, and developing a clear message for the identified target group. Much of the time participants were working in small groups and gaining practical experience in using the available tools.

Much of the  workshop involved small groups working on specific planning tasks and presenting their plans at a plenary session for further discussion and exchange of ideas

Participants gained experience at three levels of CEPA planning: plan at the ‘event’ level using participants’ experience with World Wetlands Day (WWD) as an example; planning at the site level using the Lake Urmia Management Plan as an example; and finally planning at national level.

At the first level, the Government and NGO representatives from each country working together to assess the strengths and weaknesses in their WWD 2010 experience and then went on to use various stakeholder tools in looking at an important challenge – identifying the key targets for WWD 2011 in their country followed by suggested activities for these key targets.

In preparation for the next day’s field trip, participants were introduced to the Lake Urmia Management Plan (a UNDP/GEF project site) by Ms Merhi Asna Ashari, from the project; and Mr Hojat Jabari and Mr Faramarz Safari, from the local governments in Urmia and Nagadeh cities respectively (see photos below from our evening boat trip to the lake).

Setting off at 07.00 the next day participants spent the morning visiting a reservoir that has been constructed to address water issues at the saline Lake Urmia and in the surrounding freshwater wetlands. A visit to one of these, Shurgol wetland (part of the Shurgol, Yadegarlu & Doregh Sangi Lakes Ramsar Site), showed the very positive effects of restoration and was a welcome visit for the many birdwatchers among the participants with an abundance of white storks, pelicans, flamingos, marsh harriers and many, many other species – a delight for all of us!

Shurgol wetland (part of the Shurgol, Yadegarlu & Doregh Sangi Lakes Ramsar Site), showed the very positive effects of restoration with its abundant birdlife.

Thanks to the support of the Department of Environment in Urmia and Nagadeh cities, participants were able to focus on conducting a stakeholder analysis – an important part of the planning cycle which involves stakeholder analysis, problem analysis, visioning etc. In particular participants were able to conduct semi-structured stakeholder interviews, first developing relevant questions and then interviewing stakeholders. These included a representative from a fisherman’s cooperative, several NGOs, key people from the provincial governments representing natural resources, water resources, environment and tourism, and even the Governor of the Province kindly made himself available for interview! This took all of the afternoon and most participants found this a new and very rewarding experience.

Stakeholder interview - a representative from the local media (top left )Stakeholder interview - the state Governor (facing the camera)

Back at the meeting room over the two final days, time was spent in analysing the data collected and using it to conduct visioning exercises for some of the stakeholder groups. Various tools were also used for identifying key stakeholders and key CEPA interventions. Participants then returned to the Lake Urmia Management Plan to look more in depth at some of the more technical objectives and where they thought, from their interview information, that additional CEPA objectives should be articulated.

A final discussion was held on the significant challenge posed by developing a national CEPA plan and participants were able to share experiences and ideas about what level of planning at the national level is required. Should countries simply ensure the CEPA issues are adequately addressed in a national wetland strategy or action plan? Should a separate CEPA action plan be developed at this level? Would CEPA planning be best addressed at site level? The pros and cons of many options were discussed giving participants much to talk about in their home countries.

The workshop was facilitated by Esther Koopmanschap, from Wageningen UR Centre for Development Innovation with assistance from Sandra Hails and Vladimir Borisov. Vladimir assisted with the interpretation since the workshop was conducted in both English and Russian.

When participants were asked (anonymously) what they planned to do on return to their countries with these CEPA skills, the responses were very varied and encouraging. Here are a few responses.

  • prepare a World Wetlands Day Celebration Plan

  • initiate the incorporation of CEPA in the National Action Plan

  • strengthen CEPA components in the Strategic Action Plan which is being completed now for a river basin in my country

  • strengthen CEPA components in the national wetland strategy, which is being updated now

  • prepare some recommendations for our regional offices on improving participation of stakeholders in the process of management plan preparation

If the workshop helps participants with these plans then we can indeed feel it has been very worthwhile.

Participants embark on a long walk passed abandoned boats to reach the water's edge of Lake Urmia for an evening boat trip: more than 10 years of drought have had a severe impact on this saline lake.


At last we arrive at the boat jetty having crossed pebbles, then sand and then salt to reach the jetty. Still, it proved to be a beautiful trip at sunset despite the sad evidence of the impact of the drought.

The Ramsar Secretariat takes this opportunity to thank the Ramsar Regional Centre – Central & West Asia for its support for the workshop both financially and practically in assisting with the logistical arrangements.

Report by Sandra Hails

Photos by Sandra Hails and the Ramsar Regional Centre - CWA