11 February 2014, Vientiane, Lao PDR – Government representatives, teachers, students and members of local communities came together in Champassak and Savannakhet provinces.
To celebrate the annual World Wetlands Day designated for 2 February every year, to commemorate the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The events were organized in the Xe Champhone and Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar sites in Southern Lao PDR on 5 and 7 February 2014 respectively.
The theme for this year’s events was “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth” and sought to further highlight the importance of wetlands to agriculture; particularly for communities that are dependent on these wetlands for their livelihoods. The events were sponsored by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, under the Mekong Water Dialogues project and supported by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
Participants in Ban Kengkok in the Xe Champhone Ramsar site, Champhone district in Savannakhet Province convened to listen to speeches delivered by government officials and presentations about the value of wetlands and wetland resources for agriculture. IUCN Lao PDR staff gave a presentation on the Ramsar Convention. Students from Ban Kengkok Dong Primary and Secondary Schools presented illustrations that they had done in response to the wider theme. One student, Mr Panetavanh Xaiyalath from Ban Kengkok Secondary School, who won the first prize in the competition, commented on his painting, “I chose to draw what I saw in my immediate environment here in Ban Kengkok, which has rice farming, cattle rearing and fishing.”
The celebrations in Beung Kiat Ngong Ramsar site, Champassak Province, were held on 7 February 2014, in Phommaleu and Phapho villages. Community members, government officials, and representatives from the Ramsar secretariat took part in an early morning exercise to remove Mimosa pigra; an invasive species in the wetland. Speaking of the significance of the Lao PDR’s wetlands for agriculture, Mr Padith Vannalatsamy, Vice District Governor of Phatomphonh district in Champassak Province, pointed to the economic value of rice farming in the Beung Kiat Ngong wetland. He stated, “Rice farming earns approximately US$ 131,000 annually for this wetland site. Mimosa takes away from this valuable farm land.”
Following this activity, participants congregated in Ban Phapho where Mr Bounkham Phothisane, Deputy Director of the Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment and Head of the Ramsar Secretariat in Champassak Province delivered the keynote speech, and students participated in a “Fill the bubble” contest using World Wetland Day-themed cartoons provided by the international body, Ramsar.
At the close of the celebration, Mr Vilavong Vannalath, IUCN Lao PDR, Mekong Water Dialogues Field Coordinator addressed the importance of holding events in the wetland by saying, “The World Wetland Day provides yet another opportunity for villagers and local governments to have dialogues about the important themes on an annual basis. This year, it provided the opportunity for farmers to discuss the problems they face and for me as a field coordinator, it allowed me to provide information about the importance of wetlands and sustainable farming practices.”
About Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD)
MWD is coordinated and facilitated by IUCN and supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. It was initiated to work with countries of the Mekong Region – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam – to improve water governance by facilitating transparent and inclusive decision-making to improve livelihood security, human and ecosystem health.
By Wendy C. Atieno
Communications Officer, Water and Wetlands Programme, IUCN Lao PDR