Building capacity for Ramsar CEPA Focal Points in West Asia

Sandra Hails, CEC member and CEPA Programme Officer from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat (in Gland) recently facilitated a CEPA workshop in Iran. She shares her report with CEC.


The historic Ramsar hotel in the city of Ramsar, birthplace of the Convention on 2 February 1971.

Ramsar Regional Centre for Central and West Asia, Ramsar City
29th September – 1st October 2009

The first of a series of CEPA (Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness) workshops throughout the Ramsar regions took place in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the city of Ramsar, the birthplace of the Convention, from 29th September – 1st October. Bringing together CEPA Focal Points (Government and NGO), National Focal Points (NFPs), and other members of the Ramsar Administrative Authorities from seven countries, as well as representatives from two non-Contracting Parties, this workshop set out to give participants some hands-on experience in CEPA Action Planning.

Under the current CEPA Programme of the Ramsar Convention, Resolution X.8, all Parties are urged to develop a CEPA Action Plan at some level – national, sub-national, catchment or local level – in order to identify priority activities that address recognised needs in the field of CEPA to support the wise use of wetlands. The CEPA Programme also clearly calls for CEPA National Focal Point nominations and defines their role as lead implementers within their respective countries.

The workshop was jointly organized and funded by the Ramsar Regional Centre for Central and West Asia (RRC-CWA) and the Ramsar Secretariat, and was facilitated by Esther Koopmanschap (Wageningen University) and Sandra Hails (Ramsar Secretariat). Key logistics planning for the meeting were carried out by Yasaman Rajabkhah, Director of the RRC-CWA, and her team, along with other Iranian colleagues, providing participants with an excellent and memorable experience in Iran.

Our workshop began formally in the city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea after a seven-hour bus journey from Tehran taking us over the spectacular Alburz mountains. We felt very honoured not only to have our opening ceremony take place in the same room in the Ramsar Hotel where the Convention was first signed on 2nd February 1971, but also to have the presence of the Governor of Mazandaran Province, Mr. Abdulsamad Safarnejad, the Mayor of Ramsar city, Mr. Mohsen Moradi, and the Deputy of Natural Resources, Department of Environment, Mazandaran Province, Mr Dariush Moghadas. In their opening remarks, they warmly welcomed the participants and expressed their strong commitment to the conservation of the Iranian natural environment both for biodiversity and for the well-being of all Iranians.

Following the opening, participants moved to the offices of the RRC-CWA to continue the workshop. To set the scene, Sandra Hails presented the main elements of the Convention’s CEPA programme, its key goals, key implementers, specific roles for the CEPA NFPs, available CEPA tools, and some preliminary discussion on one of the key requirements of the Programme – the development of a CEPA Action Plan at an appropriate level for the country concerned (national, sub-national, catchment, local/wetland). An introduction to planning by Esther Koopmanschap followed, covering identifying target groups, setting objectives and developing a clear message for the identified target group. In practical terms the participants looked at World Wetlands Day as a CEPA planning focus. Working in small groups, participants made use of various stakeholder tools in looking at a key challenge – identifying the key stakeholders.

On the second workshop day participants were up and off very early to the Anzali Wetlands complex, a 15,000 hectare Ramsar Site designated in 1975. A two and a half hour drive west of Ramsar city, the Ramsar site comprises a large freshwater lagoon fed by several rivers with extensive reedbeds providing excellent habitats for fish, important breeding, staging and wintering areas for a wide variety of waterbirds, important resources for local fishermen and hunters, and a beautiful area for local people to visit.

An ambitious management plan was developed some years ago with international funding but extensive implementation has not been possible due to funding limitations. Ms Delaram Golmarvi, Senior expert of Natural Resources and Biodiversity from the Department of Environment, oversees the management at the site on a daily basis and very kindly spent the day with us, beginning first at the site’s wetland centre where she provided an excellent overview for participants of the wetland, its diversity, its current uses by local communities and the various management challenges the site faces. Immediately after this boats, were made available for a brief tour of the area. Back at the centre, the work began! Delaram helped immensely with practical information about the site’s management challenges as participants began looking at CEPA action planning using Anzali wetlands complex as a case study. This introduced some additional CEPA tools for visioning, stakeholder analysis and setting objectives. Learning was achieved through hands-on planning within small groups and then sharing of their work with other groups. Three different groups focussed on developing a draft CEPA Action Plan (focusing on one of the threats for Anzali as identified by Delaram) in support of the implementation of the site’s Wetland Management Plan. Two of the groups focussed on developing a draft plan to address the issue of overfishing while one decide to address sedimentation problems. In both cases, of course, participants recognised the need for technical as well as CEPA solutions.

The third day of the workshop continued with the draft CEPA Action Plan for Anzali, addressing in more detail a specific target group, setting clear objectives and providing a clear message per target group.

The workshop finished with a discussion and then a rapid vote on whether participants thought for their country that (a) developing a National Action Plan is feasible; and (b) whether such a plan is desirable. While there was a strong positive vote on the desirability of such a plan, there was a largely positive vote for question (a) but with a significant number of participants expressing a qualified ‘yes’ ranging from 50% to 100% sure. Definitely a topic for further discussion back in home countries!

While the participants enthusiastically tackled the practical work in CEPA planning during the workshop and hopefully will be able to use these tools in their own CEPA planning, the benefits of the networking that took place during the workshop should not be underestimated. The sharing of experiences between participants and the discussion of the diverse approaches to CEPA and wetland management in use also contributed to enhanced CEPA capacity.

The workshop participants, the facilitator Esther Koopmanschap, and myself were profuse in our appreciation of the financial support from the Ramsar Regional Centre which helped bring participants to Iran and for the attention to detail in planning the logistics of the meeting which made out stay in Iran such a memorable one.

The facilitators would like to thank all participants for their continued effort in the CEPA Action Planning workshop!

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