World Wetlands Day – Healthy Wetlands, Healthy Forests

15 February 2011 | News story

This year World Wetlands Day was recognized and celebrated in Vientiane and in Beung Kiat Ngong Wetlands in Champassak Province, one of the first sites in Lao PDR recognized under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

Wetlands, such as mangroves, peat forests and freshwater swamp forests, are home to a wealth of biodiversity. To mark this year’s World Wetlands Day on Wednesday 2 February, IUCN is highlighting the role and importance of forests in wetlands, as 2011 is the International Year of Forests.

This year’s World Wetlands Day also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar protected wetland sites cover an area of 186 million hectares, about the size of Mexico, making it the largest protected area network in the world. Lao PDR joined the Ramsar Convention in September 2010, nominating two wetlands sites of national importance, Beung Kiat Ngong in Champassak Province and Xe Champhone in Savannakhet Province.

In Lao PDR this year, IUCN and the Government of Lao PDR convened a range of activities to recognizing the importance of wetlands and the vital role played by forests in the water cycle and in providing environmental services such as protecting water quality and storing carbon.

In Vientiane, on January 31, 2011, the first meeting of the National Committee for Wetland Management of the Ramsar Convention in Lao PDR was held. The meeting was chaired by H.E Asang Laoly, Vice Prime Minister of Lao PDR, and Chairman of both this Committee and the National Environment Committee. The meeting’s purpose was to inform all committee members and stakeholders about country’s accession to the Ramsar Convention, to discuss the significance of wetlands and affirm Lao PDR’s commitments to manage and use the resources wisely.

In Champassak Province, provincial and district government representatives, teachers and students, journalists and civil society participants came together at Beung Kiat Ngong in Pathoumphone District on February 5th to celebrate World Wetlands Day. Activities promoted the value of wetlands, emphasizing the importance of flooded forests and forest swamps, such as those found in Beung Kiat Ngong. Processions, local performances, and an elephant baci ceremony were organised, and games and quizzes about conservation were a highlight for local school students.

“Lao PDR’s wetlands, including these forested wetlands, provide us with essential services, such as carbon storage, habitats for fish and other species, and livelihoods for local people. Lao PDR’s recent accession to the Ramsar Convention shows its growing commitment to protecting its wetland resources”, commented Ms Latsamay Sylavong, Country Representative for IUCN Lao PDR.

World Wetlands Day is a global event organized by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat in Gland, Switzerland. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty signed by nations to protect wetlands around the world.

Wetlands provide many services, such as food, fresh water and fuel, and fulfill vital roles in carbon storage, pollution control and protection from natural hazards, such as floods and storms. Water supplies are dependent on healthy wetlands; healthy forests help to support and protect wetlands. Yet there are worrying signs that wetlands are being lost at a higher rate than any other ecosystem. According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 50% of our wetlands globally have been lost over the last century. Widespread degradation and loss is triggered by the development of infrastructure, land conversion, deforestation and the introduction of invasive species.

About the Ramsar Convention
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 160 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1910 wetland sites, totaling almost 187 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. 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”. Lao PDR was the 160th country to join the Ramsar Convention, and the 8th in the ASEAN region.

Website: www.ramsar.org