The League of Arab States (LAS), the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention, and the United Nations Environment Program – Regional Office West Asia (UNEP-ROWA) jointly organized a “Regional Technical Meeting on Implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the Arab Region” from 22 to 25 June 2009 at the headquarters of the League of Arab States (LAS) in Cairo, Egypt. The meeting was attended by 72 participants, including representatives from the Arab countries, concerned regional and international organizations, academics and other wetland experts.
The meeting came after a call by the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE) for an expert group meeting on the sustainable management and development of wetlands in the Arab Region. The specific objectives of the meeting included reviewing the significance of wetlands in supporting sustainable development of the Arab region, identifying the challenges and opportunities for the wise use of wetlands, and developing a regional framework strategy on the way forward.
For the Ramsar Convention, the meeting was an important first opportunity for the Secretariat to cooperate with the LAS and UNEP-ROWA to promote wetland wise use in the region. The Arab region is also particularly important for the Convention because 27% (6) of the 22 LAS member states have yet to accede to the Convention. The region also supports a range of unique wetland types that are of particular importance in Arab culture, e.g., oases, sebkhas, and wadis, and there are also internationally important areas of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. All of these wetland types are currently under-represented in the List of Ramsar sites from the region.
On the opening morning of the meeting, there were welcoming speeches from the Egyptian Minister of Environment, His Excellency Ir. Maged George; the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs (LAS), Dr. Mohammed El-Twigiry, and the Director of Environment, Housing and Sustainable Development (LAS), Ms. Fatma El-Mallah. This was followed by presentations from each of the Arab country representatives, who gave updates on the current status of the wetlands in their country and the activities that are being conducted to implement the Convention. Presentations were then given by the regional and international organizations and initiatives on the activities that they have been conducting towards achieving the Ramsar Convention’s objectives. At the end of these presentations, three separate parallel sessions were held, one for the representatives from West Asia, another for the representatives from North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and the third for representatives from the international and regional organizations and initiatives. These parallel sessions were intended to allow in-depth discussion of the issues facing wetlands and implementation of the Convention faced by each of these groups, and to develop regional priorities and a regional framework strategy for implementation of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2009-2015.
The main outcome from the presentations and discussion during the meeting was the drafting and approval of the ‘Cairo Statement’ [PDF English, PDF Arabic], which is a summary of the results of the meeting and which will be presented to the CAMRE for endorsement at their meeting in November 2009. This will then provide high-level support for future national and regional policy and action to support the sustainable use of wetlands in the Arab region.
Language was identified by participants as a barrier to implementation in the Arab Region. They requested that the Convention make greater use of Arabic to increase awareness of the importance of the Convention in the region and lead to greater benefits to the countries from accession. As a result since the meeting, the Convention Secretariat has made funds available to translate a number of the key Ramsar documents into Arabic, and it is hoped that these can be distributed to all Arab states and be placed on the Ramsar Web site in early 2010. In future as more funds become available, more documents will be translated into Arabic.
Overall during the meeting, participants fully recognized the range of economic, social, cultural and environmental values and benefits that wetlands provide in the Arab region. These include the fact that wetlands provide a source of water for people, livestock and agriculture; help to maintain human health and livelihood and achieve food security; and that wetlands also support wildlife and are places for nature tourism, thus contributing to economic development. However, participants also stressed the threat of water shortages and the need to manage water effectively for all the competing stakeholders. As a result, there was acknowledgement that Arab states should endeavor to mainstream wetland issues into government policy by establishing efficient mechanisms for cooperation among different sectoral agencies, such as by establishing broad-based National Wetland Committees.
The discussion on the management of wetlands and water was not limited to the national level, however, but also extended to transboundary issues, with participants emphasizing the need for LAS member states to enhance cooperation and improve their management of shared water systems, e.g., river basins as well as coastal and marine ecosystems for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Discussions at the meeting also showed that there were many opportunities for cooperation between Arab States, and between Arab States and the many MEAs, regional organizations (e.g. European Space Agency, FAO), academics, initiatives (e.g. MedWet) and civil society organizations (e.g. environmental NGOs) working on wetland issues in the Arab region, to enhance wetland wise use in the region.
Finally, the successful holding of the meeting would not have been possible without the generous financial and logistical support provided by the Danone – Evian Fund for the attendance by the government representatives from North Africa; funds from UNEP-ROWA for the attendance by government representatives from West Africa; and the Secretariat of the LAS who provided logistics support and secretarial services, including provision of a meeting room, translators and equipment for simultaneous translation.
(Ramsar Secretariat representatives to the meeting were Lew Young and Anne Aldersey, Senior and Assistant Advisors for Asia/Oceania, and Abou Bamba and Cynthia Kibata, Senior and Assistant Advisors for Africa.)
Group photograph of the meeting participants
Dr. Yasser Adel Safi Osman (Desert Research Centre, Egypt) in front of the backdrop used during the meeting
Meeting in session
Participants in discussion during one of the parallel sessions
(L. to R.) Mr. Hilal Al-Nabhani (Oman), Ms. Nermin Wafa (LAS), Prof. Mohamed Reda Fishar (Egypt), in discussion during the field outing along the River Nile
(L. to R.) Mr. Mohamed Ribi (Kingdom of Morocco), Ms. Coralie Beltrame (Tour du Valet, France), Mr. Kareem Abdelhamid (Tunisia), Ms. Ghania Bessah (Algeria), Mr Nejib Benassaiah (MedWet Secretariat) and Mr. Nabil Assaf (Lebanon)