"Sustainable management of transboundary waters in Europe" was the theme of the international conference convened by the Environment Ministries of Poland, Finland, and Germany and the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management of the Netherlands in the Polish coastal resort Miedzyzdroje, where the Oder/Odra river enters the Baltic Sea, from 21-24 April 2002 in honour of the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, also known as the UN-ECE Water Convention (Helsinki, 1992). The Convention is intended to strengthen national measures for the protection and ecologically sound management of transboundary surface and groundwaters. It obliges its Parties to prevent, control and reduce water pollution from point and non-point sources. It also includes provisions for monitoring, research and development, consultations, warning and alarm systems, mutual assistance, institutional arrangements, and the exchange and protection of information, as well as public access to information. A specific, compliance Protocol on Water and Health was adopted in London, in 1999 (cf. www.unece.org/env/water/).
The conference provided a platform for about 140 participants, representing government officials, decision-makers and planners of environmental, water and health authorities, representatives of joint river and lake commissions, scientists, economists, lawyers, NGOs and others. They realised that progress in European water policy cannot be achieved in closed circles of administrators or scientific experts, as decision-making is the result of strategic interaction between multiple interdependent actors in different institutional environments, including all stakeholders, the public at large and especially NGOs and local action groups.
The conference aimed to achieve four major objectives: to examine progress made in European water policies, broaden the scope of cooperation, contribute to the periodic review of the implementation of chapter 18 of Agenda 21 on freshwater resources, and to provide a forum for Europeans to share their experience with other regions in the world. Four major subjects were dealt with:
i. An integrated approach to water management, a concept with many facets and going beyond freshwater management. Here Ramsar's guidelines on integrating wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management (summarised in Handbook Nr. 4) were presented as a general framework to link water management issues with the management and conservation of those aquatic ecosystems and natural infrastructures (i.e. the wetlands) that ultimately provide freshwater resources for human use.
ii. Information and communication to bridge the gaps between actors by providing adequate information and involving the right institutions and people.
iii. Challenges to water management and structural and economic developments needed for its modernisation, including necessary legal and institutional arrangements.
iv. European Union legislation and the UN-ECE Water Convention, focusing essentially on the preponderant role of the recently adopted EU Water Framework Directive.
The organisers, joined by UNEP, WHO, UNESCO, and the International Water Assessment Centre (IWAC) established at the Dutch Institute for Inland Water Management and Waste Water Treatment (RIZA), are to be congratulated for maintaining and developing a closely knit network of diverse specialists working on specific projects in many transboundary contexts, thus contributing real-life experience to the policy-making level of the UN-ECE. Ramsar national authorities are encouraged to follow closely the further work of these specialists, and to make sure that wetlands are fully recognised for the hydrological functions they fulfill in this context.
-- Tobias SALATHE - Regional Coordinator for Europe Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, 1971)
Conference participants interacting with the "Wolin-Jomsborg-Vineta" group of Vikings maintaining old traditions in the coastal area of Szeczin and beyond in the Baltic region, as well as having a drink with contemporary fishermen on the beach.
The Wolin National Park covers the Polish side of the Odra estuary complex, including large beech forests and the extensive Swina Delta, i.e. the river connecting the Szeczin lagoon, receiving the Odra flows, with the Pommeranian Bay of the Baltic Sea. On the opposite side lies Usedom Natural Park in eastern Germany, a popular tourist area. Both would make excellent Ramsar Sites. In the picture below, lake Turkusowe inside Wolin National Park can be seen in the foreground, a former limestone quarry, now a tourist attraction for its turquoise colour. In the background, the Swina reedbeds can just about be distinguished.