Ramsar trip to Russia, early September 1997
The Secretary General and the Regional Coordinator for Europe visited the Russian Federation from 1-7 September for discussions with the Ramsar Administrative Authority in Moscow (the State Committee for Environmental Protection) and a review of all aspects of the implementation of the Convention. They also visited existing and potential Ramsar sites in the Astrakhan region of southwest Russia, close to the border with Kazakhstan.
The Russian Federation, composed of 89 federal divisions with different degrees of autonomy and administrative arrangements vis-à-vis the Federal Government, represents a real challenge for the application of an international treaty such as Ramsar. Designation of Ramsar sites, for example, requires the completion of potentially lengthy procedures at both regional and federal levels before the Federal Government can communicate the designation to the Ramsar Bureau. Nonetheless, in addition to the 35 Ramsar sites already designated, a further 70 Russian wetlands have been identified as meeting the Ramsar criteria. It is thought that ongoing research could lead to the identification of several hundred sites which fulfill at least one of the criteria. An inventory of wetlands and corresponding database are being developed by the Wetlands International Office in Moscow and the Russian Research Institute for Nature Conservation, in work supported financially by the Government of The Netherlands.
As part of this work, the finishing touches are currently being put to Russian texts of Ramsar Information Sheets for the country's 35 designated sites. Wetlands International is undertaking the task of translation into English. It is hoped that the Administrative Authority will be in a position to transmit officially the completed translations, together with boundary maps, to the Ramsar Bureau before the end of the year (thus meeting the 31 December 1997 deadline, established in Brisbane, for filling the gaps in the Ramsar Database).
In addition to completing data submissions for its sites, the Administrative Authority has identified the following priorities for the application of the Convention:
In order to take some of these priorities forward, a Federal Working Group on the Ramsar Convention has been established with the participation of key Federal Ministries and State Committees. So far, two meetings have been held. The fact that Russian is not an official working language of the Convention has created particular problems in spreading the Ramsar message throughout the country, so the Bureau has now produced the basic information about the Convention and its modus operandi in Russian and is committed to trying to produce a Ramsar Newsletter in Russian at least three times a year. The Administrative Authority will be responsible for its distribution in the Federation.
The possibility of Ramsar calling a donors meeting for the implementation of the Convention in the Russian Federation was explored. The suggestion will be further considered by the Administrative Authority.
The Ramsar officers also visited Astrakhan, one of the regions (or "Oblasts") of the Federation, where they had the opportunity to visit the Volga Delta, the lower part of which is a Ramsar site, and the Ilmen Lakes complex to the west of the main delta. The Ilmen Lakes are being considered for designation as a Ramsar site, and the main purpose of the visit was to explain the meaning and benefits of designation under Ramsar to the local authorities. Detailed discussions were held with the Astrakhan Regional Committee for Environmental Protection - the local branch of the Ramsar Administrative Authority.
During their visit, the Ramsar officers also had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Russian Research Institute for Nature Conservation, Wetlands International (Moscow office) and the Russian associate of BirdLife International.
In summary, given the extension and complexity of the Russian Federation, effective application of the Convention represents a real challenge. Yet the Secretary General and the Regional Coordinator were much impressed by the efforts and commitment of the Federal and Astrakhan Regional authorities. Special thanks are due to both for the hard work put into organizing the programme for the Bureau visit. he
-- reported by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention,
and Tim Jones, Regional Coordinator for Europe