Local communities in the Arab Region often live in arid and semi-arid environments where wetland and water management is crucial for survival. The publication of Rapid cultural inventories of wetlands in Arab states, a joint publication of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, brings to light the powerful role that local communities and their cultural traditions can play in wetland conservation and wise use in the region.
The report inventories 18 wetlands in Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Mauritania, and Algeria, including six with dual World Heritage and Ramsar Site designations. Both conventions are mutually supportive in ensuring that cultural values are fully embedded in the protection and management of wetlands, as illustrated in Ramsar and World Heritage Conventions: Converging towards success.
Many of the wetlands included in this report have a long and rich history of community participation and sustainable use, including: Iles Kerkennah in Tunisia where traditional fishing methods, such as Charfias and Demessa, have been passed down through generations; Oasis de Tamantit et Sid Ahmed Timmi in Algeria where intricate social structures support the sustainable use of the ancient fouggara irrigation systems; the Iraqi Marshlands, where the Ma’adan or Marsh Arabs still practice and preserve traditional wetland management practices that date back 5000 years to Sumerian times; Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania where traditional use agreements with Imraguen communities reconcile traditional use interests, such as fishing, with conservation interests; and Detwah Lagoon in Yemen, where local communities are responsible for management decisions and regulation of sustainable fisheries.
The report’s key recommendations include developing regional capacity building programmes on integrated management of wetlands, creating an active knowledge platform at the regional level in Arabic, in addition to English and French, and the adoption of a more systematic collaborative approach across UN and international conventions in addressing the integration of cultural and natural heritage at the regional level.
The forthcoming Ramsar Convention COP13 will take place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, from 21-29 October 2018. The 42nd World Heritage Committee will also take place in the region from 24 June-4 July 2018 in Manama, Bahrain. Having both the Ramsar Convention COP and the World Heritage Committee taking place in the region in 2018 provides a unique opportunity to develop a programme of action to recognize and strengthen the powerful role that local communities and their cultural traditions can play in wetland conservation and wise use in the Arab Region.
This publication was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH) and the MAVA Foundation, in the context of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat project “Conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in wetlands: Global leadership for an integrated approach through the Ramsar Convention” (March 2015-March 2018).