World Water Day recognized in Lao PDR: Water and Wetlands for Thirsty Cities

25 March 2011

Wetlands are important sources of livelihoods for local people. Photo: Christoph Muziol

For this year’s World Water Day on Tuesday 22 March, IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and its partners in Lao PDR, are joining the international community in highlighting the 2011 theme ‘Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge’.

Coping with the growing water needs of cities is one of the most pressing challenges of this century. Half of the world’s population now lives in cities and it is estimated that within two decades that will increase to nearly 60% of the population, or 5 billion people.

This means that a tremendous amount of water is needed, for drinking, sanitation, industry and to produce food. Ensuring reliable access to safe water supplies will help to make the cities of the future truly sustainable.

Protecting and conserving healthy watersheds is essential for many of the world’s biggest cities and saves billions of dollars. In Vientiane, for example, the That Luang Marsh is a water source for agriculture as well as maintaining ground water, naturally treating wastewater and providing flood protection. The direct and indirect benefits of the That Luang Marsh have been valued at around US$4.8 million annually.    

This year, activities in Lao PDR to recognize World Water Day have stressed the importance of protecting and managing urban water supplies, as well as the role of wetlands in safeguarding these valuable water resources.

“Wetlands are connected to water sources, from large river basins to the water supplies of cities, towns and villages. It’s worth reminding ourselves just how important these wetlands are to all of us, rural and urban”, says Ms Latsamay Sylavong, Country Representative for IUCN Lao PDR.

A training workshop on the Conservation and Wise Use of Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin took place in Vientiane on 21-25 March, convened by the Ramsar Secretariat, IUCN and the Mekong Water Dialogues Project, bringing together participants from all over the region to learn how to better manage wetlands.

The training will be followed by a seminar on the Ramsar Convention in Lao PDR for local authorities in Vientiane, with emphasis on wetland values and urban wetlands, hosted by the Water Resources and Environment Administration in partnership with the Ramsar Secretariat and IUCN.

For more information on World Water Day, please visit:

About urban water resources:

Water has an economic value. “Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting natural ecosystems to secure their water supplies makes economic sense,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN’s Director General. “Rather than chopping down forests or draining marshlands, keeping water catchments healthy saves billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly urban infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere.”

Protect water resources. “Cities are often dependent on surrounding rivers, upstream wetlands and groundwater aquifers. These forms of natural water infrastructure, together with engineered infrastructure, pumping and piping systems, help guarantee water supplies to urban areas as cities grow,” says Mark Smith, Director of IUCN’s Water Programme. “Yet, many cities are losing precious water resources through leakage or pollution. There is also growing evidence that water resources are significantly affected by climate change, particularly through the impact of floods and droughts.”

For example, Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, relies on the Guatopo and Macarao rivers for its freshwater provision. Those rivers continue to supply a constant flow of freshwater to the city’s 5 million inhabitants. The forests of China’s Miyun watershed generate water benefits worth US $2 billion a year whilst supplying 70% of Beijing’s drinking water. Healthy wetlands provide natural wastewater treatment services, such as the Nakivubo wetland in Uganda, which saves the capital city Kampala US $2 million a year in terms of sewage and treatment facilities.

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.


For more information, please contact:

Ms. Charlotte Hicks (Communications), IUCN Lao PDR

Tel: +856 21 216401; +856 206140051, email:


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Mekong Dialogues
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