Ramsar visit to South America
In late December 1997 and the first half of January '98, Mr Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention, paid visits in three South American Contracting Parties, in combination with a brief home leave in Argentina. This is a brief summary of his contacts and meetings.
The Secretary General (center) at one of the birdwatching towers at the Peruvian Ramsar site Paracas Marine Reserve, with Mr Luis Alfaro (right), Director General of Protected Areas and Wild Fauna, and Mr Edgardo Marthans (left), Chief of the Paracas Reserve.
The main purpose of Mr. Blascos visit to Brazil was to participate in the First Brazilian Meeting on Ramsar Sites, organized by the Ministry of Environment, Water Resources and the Legal Amazon, with financial support from the Wetlands for the Future Initiative. Managers and NGOs working in the five Ramsar sites in Brazil were present, plus a number of other observer institutions from the government and the NGO community. The meeting was opened by Mr Haroldo Mattos de Lemos, Secretary of Coordination of Environmental Matters. Mr. Mattos de Melos made a strong plea for Ramsar to pay more attention to water management issues. Given the fact that in Brazil the same Ministry deals with environment and water resources, this should not be difficult in this country.
During the meeting presentations were made about the conservation and management situation of each Ramsar site. In general terms, the reports indicated that all of them are in a good conservation/sustainable use situation. Proposals were also heard concerning further Ramsar site nominations. In the past the government has been reluctant to include more sites in the Ramsar List for fear that it might not be in a position to provide adequate attention to them. It would seem that the government feels more confident now about going ahead with more nominations.
The participation of the Secretary General in the meeting served to dispel yet again some misconceptions about the Convention: Ramsar sites do not require previous designation as protected areas; Ramsar designation does not preclude other uses of the sites, provided that their management is carried out according to the Ramsar wise use guidelines; the Convention is not only about Ramsar sites, but about conservation and wise use of all wetlands in Contracting Parties; the Convention is concerned with ALL aspects of wetland resources and not just waterbirds.
One important discussion during the meeting was about the Pantanal. The Ramsar site in the Pantanal it is not considered as the most representative zone in the wetland. The ideal would be that the whole of the Pantanal should be declared a Ramsar site, but this seems a bit unrealistic for the time being. The Secretary General suggested that a network of Ramsar sites could be envisaged within the Pantanal. (The Panatanal Foundation is already working with private owners with a view to creating a Natural Park that could be designated as an additional Ramsar site.) A lot of work is going on in the wetland, carried out by a large number of government agencies, NGOs, and foreign agencies. The Secretary General committed himself to visit the Pantanal in 1998, in the hope of catalyzing the idea of a network of Ramsar sites there.
In meetings with officials at the Ministry, the Secretary General insisted on the need to incorporate wetlands issues in the National Biodiversity Strategy that is under preparation. He also met with the President of the Brazilian Environment Institute (IBAMA), the agency responsible for national protected areas in Brazil. Most of the discussion centered around the Pantanal and ideas about the possibility of using Ramsar as the umbrella for projects involving Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Mr Blasco also visited the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he met with Ambassador Antonio A. Dayrell de Lima, Director General of the Special Themes Department, briefing the Ambassador about the Convention and exchanging views about the "Hidrovia" project (a navigable channel that would connect the Pantanal in the center of Brazil with the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires, Argentina).
The amount of work presently being carried out in Brazil on environmental issues is overwhelming. Mr Blasco also found a renewed interest in using Ramsar in Brazil and determined to encourage and support this development.
The visit was in response to a formal invitation by the Ramsar Administrative Authority, the National Institute of Natural Resources (INRENA), in the Ministry of Agriculture. The programme of the visit was drawn up with the assistance of Lic. Victor Pulido, Director of the Peruvian Wetlands Programme, a joint government/NGO project.
In his tour of the Paracas Marine Reserve, Mr Blasco met with reserve guards on patrol. In their vehicle (not seen here), they were transporting a confiscated dead dolphin that poachers had left hidden, presumably planning to pick it up at night.
The visit included discussions with the Chief of INRENA, Ing. Miguel Ventura, and the General Director of Protected Areas and Wild Fauna, Lic. Luis Alfaro. The most significant question discussed with them, as well as with the President and Executive Secretary of the National Council of the Environment (CONAM), was the possibility of preparing a significant project that could significantly carry forward the existing Peruvian Wetlands Program. As in Brazil, the Secretary General invited the government agencies to make sure that wetlands are fully integrated in the National Biodiversity Strategy being prepared under the leadership of CONAM.
The Secretary General also met with the Vice President of the Environment Commission at the National Parliament, the President of the National Council on Science and Technology (CONYTEC), the Head of the Department of Multilateral Treaties, and the Director of Specialized Affairs at the Ministry of External Relations, and with the Dutch Embassy, one of the main supporters of the Peruvian Wetlands Programme. He also met with some 12 NGO members of the Peruvian Environmental Network and with the representative in Peru of Conservation International, and attended a reception kindly hosted by the WWF Office in Peru.
Mr Blasco had the opportunity of visiting, very briefly, the Ramsar site Pantanos de Villa in the outskirts of Lima, were there is a significant controversy about the construction of a pasta factory in the vicinity of the site. This matter was discussed with the Chief of INRENA.
Finally, the Secretary General devoted the last day of his visit to Peru to visiting the Ramsar site Paracas Marine Reserve. Significant progress is being made on the management of the site, including the inauguration in early 1998 of a new visitors and research centre that was already completed at the time of the visit. The main problem still subsisting is the presence of two fish factories at the southern border of the reserve, which are having a considerable impact on it despite its being outside the protected area. The Secretary General intends to write to President Alberto Fujimori congratulating him and his government for the efforts made in Paracas and inviting him to find an adequate solution to the fish factories.
In conclusion, in Peru there are significant possibilities for bringing wetland conservation and sustainable use issues to the forefront of government action, which could be assisted signally by the tremendous enthusiasm of the NGO community in relation to wetland issues and the Ramsar Convention.
Mr Blasco met with the Secretary of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Ing. Maria Julia Alsogaray, to brief her on the current status of the Convention and the challenges ahead and to exchange views concerning the Hidrovia project. He also had the opportunity to meet with Mr Guillermo Lingua, our main contact in the Secretariat, with the Vice President of National Parks, and with some of the focal points working on the preparation of the National Biodiversity Strategy, whom once again he invited to clearly include wetlands in the process. The Vice President of National Parks (who is spearheading the preparation of the Strategy in his capacity as Chairman of the National Committee for IUCN) suggested that wetlands should be annexed (as will forests) to the biodiversity strategy.
He also met with leaders of the Conservation and Management Foundation who are interested in originating an agreement with Ramsar, much as they have with CITES, for the publication of a sophisticated international magazine called "CITES/C&M". They also operate a Green News Agency which provides a free services to newspapers in Argentina and the region. Before departing, Mr Blasco was able to spend two days in the capital cities of the Santa Fe and Entre Rios Provinces, where he met with legislators, NGOs, and government officials to talk about wetlands and Ramsar.