On 14 July 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF) of the Kingdom of Bhutan held a one-day ‘National Consultative Workshop on Wetlands’. The aim of the workshop was to provide updates on the progress of wetland conservation in Bhutan and to discuss the benefits of accession to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the commitments that the government would have to abide by if the country were to become a Contracting Party.
The workshop was attended by some 40 participants from a range of government departments, research institutes, as well as international and national NGOs.
|Participants at the workshop|
In his welcoming address, Mr. Gopal Mahat (Joint-Director, Department of Forests and Park Service) stated that with 70% of the land area of Bhutan under forest cover and 50% under protection, the government has shown a clear commitment to conservation. In addition, the new Water Bill had only passed by the parliament the previous day (13 July) which will provide a legal basis for authorities to manage, protect and conserve water resources in the country.
Mr. Mahat went on to acknowledge the wide range of values and benefits that the high-altitude wetlands provided in Bhutan. This included acting as a source of water for the Bramaputra river basin, for being closely interlinked with the spiritual and cultural life of the people, in supporting biodiversity and maintaining the microclimate, as well as providing opportunities for agriculture and for hydro-power production.
|View of the Phobjikha Valley|
In following, Ms. Sonam Choden outlined the role of the Watershed Management Division (MoAF) in managing the wetlands in Bhutan, before Ms. Archana Chatterjee described WWF’s regional programme on Himalayan high altitude (>3,000m) wetlands. Mr. Sherub (Ugyen Wanchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment), then described the work to map Bhutan’s high altitude wetlands and finally, Dr. Lew Young (Ramsar Convention Secretariat) explained the background, aims and activities of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
After the formal presentations, the workshop participants were divided into three groups to allow more focused discussion on three topics. These were 1), the commitments, obligations, benefits of accession to the Ramsar Convention 2), future research needs for wetland conservation in Bhutan and 3), co-ordination and data sharing mechanisms.
|Workshop participants during a discussion session|
In Group 1, the participants asked a wide range of questions concerning accession to the Ramsar Convention, and heard replies about the benefits from both the representative of the Ramsar Secretariat and representatives of countries who were already members of the Convention. These benefits include improved conservation of the wetlands designated as Ramsar Sites; greater international support and access to capacity building opportunities; and being an integral part of an international network for promoting wetland conservation.
In terms of the future needs for the wetlands in Bhutan, Group 2 identified the following topics: the need to develop a long-terms programme to monitor their status; confirmation of their functions and benefits; identifying the threats that they faced, particularly that from climate change; and developing materials to raise greater public awareness about Bhutan’s wetlands.
To co-ordinate wetland conservation and wise use in Bhutan, Group 3 provided a number of recommendations. These included the creation of a National Wetland Management Committee; the drafting of a National Wetland Management Strategy; strengthening the links on wetland conservation with other international conventions and organizations; and developing local community wetland conservation groups.
All three Groups agreed that if the Kingdom of Bhutan were to join the Ramsar Convention, then the wetlands at Phobjikha, Bumdeling and Khotokha would be suitable for designation as the first Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) in the country.
|Black-necked Crane Information Centre, Phobjikha, managed by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Bhutan|
Mr. Raling Ngawang summarized the discussions during the workshop as being positive towards accession to the Ramsar Convention. It was also agreed that a detailed report on the benefits of joining the Convention would next have to be drafted for approval by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, before being submitted to parliament for consideration.
In the meantime, the Ramsar Secretariat and organizations, such as WWF, will continue to support the government of Bhutan in their deliberations.
|(l. to r.) Mr. Bhawani Dongol (WWF Nepal), Ms. Sonam Choden (Watershed Management Division, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry), and Mr. Phurba Lhendup (WWF Bhutan)|