In May 2010, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat announced that Lao PDR had completed the accession formalities with UNESCO and had joined the Ramsar Convention, as its 160th Contracting Party (see article here). As part of the accession process, Lao PDR designated the Xe Champhone Wetlands (Savannakhet Province) and the Beung Kiat Ngong Wetlands (Champasak Province) as their first two Wetlands of International Importance (see Ramsar sites). The Convention will come into force in the country on 28 September, 2010.
In July 2010, the Water Resources and Environmental Administration (WREA) of the Government of Lao PDR organized a series of activities to celebrate their accession. The first was a half-day technical seminar and media event held on 20 July 2010, in the capital Vientiane. The event was attended by Mr. Sisavath Vithaxay (Deputy Head, WREA), Mr. Khampadith Khammounheuang (Deputy Director General of Environment Department), Mr. Sourasay Phomavong (Mekong River Commission), Dr. Robert Mather (IUCN), Dr. Lew Young (Ramsar Convention Secretariat), and some 60 other participants from different government ministries, research institutes, environmental NGOs, the private sector and the media. Participants heard presentations on the implications of accession to the Ramsar Convention as well as the benefits that the Convention can bring to support wetland conservation and wise use in the country.
On 21 July 2010, a similar celebratory event was held in Pakse, Champasak Province, where the Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar site is located. This meeting was opened by Mr. Khamsy Peangworavong (Deputy Head of the Champassak Provincial Office), who introduced the importance of the 6,000 ha wetlands (‘Beung’) at Kiat Ngong village. During the rainy season, the water level in the wetlands rises and becomes a significant fish spawning ground. In the dry season as the water level falls, the deeper areas act as important fish sanctuaries. The abundant fish resources at the site play an important role in supporting the livelihood of more than 10,000 people living around the site. An economic evaluation of the Beung Kiat Ngong wetland has shown that the fishery industry alone is worth approximately US$ 1 million per year!
|Celebration event in Pakse||Mr. Sisavath Vithaxay (Deputy Head, WREA)|
|Mr. Boun Heung, Headman of Kiat Ngong village|
The following day (22 July), a meeting was held in Kiat Ngong village to meet the village representatives and to hear their expectations for the newly designated Ramsar site. They told that in recent years, the freshwater marsh within the Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar site has been increasingly faced by drought conditions due to human-made impacts and a decline in rainfall. As a result, they requested that the government and outside organizations try to address this impact which is seriously affecting their traditional livelihood.
In recent years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has played a key role in the accession of Lao PDR, in providing support to decision-makers at the national level, as well as implementing field projects at the new Ramsar sites.
|Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar site||Mr. Padith, Vice-Governor of Pathomphone District, Champasak Province, being interviewed on national television about the Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar site|
The Mekong River is one of the great rivers of the world, starting from the edge of the Tibetan plateau before emptying into the South China Sea via an extensive delta in Vietnam. The river follows an annual cycle of flooding and increase in flow during the rainy season, and a decline in the dry season. This regular pattern is critical for the 1,200 fish species that are found in the river, where the adults swim to the floodplains to spawn and rear young during the rainy season. In turn, the abundant fisheries provide food and support the livelihood for some 55 million people who live in the river basin.
However, the river is now being threatened by the demands to meet the needs of a growing population and for economic development. The accession of Lao PDR means that all of the countries in the Mekong River Basin are now Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention (the other countries being Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam). Between these countries, they have so far designated seven Ramsar sites in the Basin. As a result, there are now exciting opportunities for implementing the Ramsar Convention in the Basin by not only through cooperation with the Contracting Parties but also, with the organizations that are working actively in the region on wetland conservation and wise use. These include the Mekong River Commission, IUCN and WWF.
> Read IUCN press release.
Photos: by Lew Young, Ramsar Secretariat and IUCN Lao PDR office