World Summit on Sustainable Development -- WWF position on protecting wetlands

World Summit on Sustainable Development -- WWF position on protecting wetlands

27 August 2002

Protecting Wetlands for a Water-Secure Future


The need to sustainably manage the planet's increasingly threatened water resources is one of the most important for all life on Earth. WWF and its partners, including the Ramsar Convention, believe that this Summit is crucial for setting targets to conserve our precious freshwater resources for people and nature, and ultimately to alleviate poverty and provide food, water and livelihood security.

Wetlands provide tremendous economic benefits to underpin sustainable development. These include water, fisheries and agriculture, energy resources, such as peat and plant matter and recreational, cultural and tourism opportunities.

WWF is asking governments to secure these benefits and a water-secure future for people and nature by prioritising the sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems, especially wetlands, as a key first step towards increasing access to water and sanitation, and improving water use efficiency.

Since January 2002, nine countries have each designated more than 500,000ha of freshwater sites as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. These new sites amount to more than 22-million ha and take the total wetland area under Ramsar to 110-million ha - representing almost 10 per cent of the world's estimated total wetland area of 1,280-milllion ha.

Of the 22-million ha of new Ramsar wetlands in 2002, over half - more than 15-million ha - has been designated by five African countries, demonstrating the region's commitment to freshwater conservation and wise use. It presents a powerful example of practical freshwater conservation action within the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and in a continent where already scarce water resources are threatened by climate change, alien invasive species, and forest clearance.

The event including press conference will honour these countries' achievements and emphasize that funding is urgently needed to sustain the momentum started by these countries and to realise development aims.

Freshwater and sustainable development

Water is a finite, essential resource but its future is far from secure. Mismanagement of freshwater ecosystems means that each year an estimated 250 million cases of water-related diseases result in 5-10 million deaths. By 2025 two-thirds of the world's people is expected to live in areas of water shortage or stress. The rate of decline of animal species is greater in freshwater than in any other habitat signalling that an underlying cause of the water crisis is the continuing degradation of freshwater ecosystems.

Given their unique value for food and water, it is especially alarming that wetlands continue to be destroyed with little thought for the poverty and food security problems such destruction causes. The ongoing degradation of water sources, leading to less freshwater being available, is largely due to poor management of river basins. The causes include deforestation and overgrazing, leading to erratic water runoff and desertification, water diversion, pollution and inefficient water use, especially leakage.

Access to water for a myriad uses can be achieved through better management of freshwater ecosystems in wetlands. Integrated river basin management (IRBM) - including entire river basins in planning, and establishing commissions to guide use of river resources especially in transboundary rivers - is a key tool for achieving this goal. The Ramsar Convention is the primary international mechanism for promoting sustainable management of freshwater resources. Ramsar's mission is "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world." Wise freshwater management, as promoted by Ramsar, is fundamental to sustainable development, and the aims of the WSSD.