Ramsar new Regional Initiative promotes wetland cooperation in the Lower Mekong region

Ramsar new Regional Initiative promotes wetland cooperation in the Lower Mekong region

5 April 2017
Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Thailand

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First Steering Committee meeting for the Indo-Burma Ramsar Regional Initiative

The Indo-Burma Ramsar Regional Initiative (IBRRI) is one of the youngest Ramsar regional initiatives, being approved by the 52nd, Ramsar Standing Committee meeting in June 2016. On 29th March 2016, the member countries of IBRRI, namely Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, held their 1st Steering Committee meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. On the second day an Inception Workshop was held involving all the relevant Ramsar Convention focal points and partners.

The Indo-Burma Ramsar Regional Initiative covers the wetlands in the Lower Mekong region which provide essential services such as food and livelihood for millions of people, helping to regulate inland floods and coastal storm surges, and supporting a wide range of unique biodiversity. So far, the countries in the IBRRI region have designated 29 Ramsar Sites between them and more are in the process of being designated.

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Kut Ting Marshland Ramsar Site in Thailand

With the recent rapid economic growth in the region however, wetlands have been degraded and lost due to infrastructure development, increased deforestation, expansion of irrigated agriculture and increasing urbanisation. This has resulted in the depletion of fish spawning and feeding grounds, shrinking wetland habitats, and reduction of water quality. Communities are increasingly being affected by saltwater intrusion, landslides and flash floods, which are intensified by climate change.

The formation of the IBRRI will be an opportunity for the countries in the region to strengthen their cooperation to address their common challenges with the support from partners and academics in the region. There will also be opportunities for countries to learn from the experience of their neighbours in different aspects of the conservation and wise use of their wetlands, such as in setting up national wetland committees, developing national wetland policies as well as wetland site management issues.

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The Prek Toal Ramsar Site includes some of the most pristine floodplains in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve in Cambodia.The local communities live in floating houses and depend on fishing and aquaculture for their livelihoods.

The IUCN Asia Regional Office (IUN ARO) serves as the Secretariat of the IBRRI and who are also supporting the work of the IBRRI through a new regional wetlands project entitled “Mekong WET: Building Resilience of Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Region” supported by the German government. 

The Mekong WET project aims to build climate resilience by harnessing the benefits of wetlands, in particular Ramsar sites (or wetlands of international importance), in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The project also aims to help the four countries to address their commitments to the Ramsar Convention and to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  Given its focus on building the resilience of wetlands and its surrounding communities, the project directly supports the work programme of IBRRI.

Reported by Lew Young, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Asia & Oceania