Vientiane Observes World Wetlands Day

IUCN Lao joined in this years celebrations of Ramsar's World Wetlands Day, with the theme 'Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People'.

World Wetlands Day, 2 February 2008, Vientiane, Lao PDR Photo: IUCN Lao

Children from five schools gathered in Vientiane on Saturday to celebrate World Wetlands Day as part of campaigns to promote the wise use of natural resources.

The event aimed to raise awareness of the importance of wetlands and highlighted the environmental significance of the Mekong basin, a habitat for many rare and endangered species including the Mekong Dolphin and the giant catfish.

The strong relationship between wetlands and human health was the basis of this year's Ramsar Convention World Wetlands Day theme: ‘Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People'.

Country Representative of the World Conservation Union, Ms Latsamay Sylavong, said wetlands were directly associated with the livelihood of communities as the majority of people lived near rivers and relied heavily on fishing and agriculture.

According to a press release, the positive impacts that healthy wetlands have on human health are the provision of food, clean water and pharmaceutical products.

“If the health of a wetland is not maintained it may have negative effects on human health and even cause deaths as a consequence of water related diseases, burning peat lands, floods and water pollution,” said the press release.

The water related diseases included malaria and diarrhoea, and these were the two worst diseases in terms of human impact, accounting for 1.3 and 1.8 million deaths respectively. These most commonly affect children, especially in Asia and the Pacific.

Food is a natural occurrence, but in recent years floods have become more destructive due to increasing development by humans in flood-prone areas; this calls for the immediate improvement of wetland management.

“We have to learn to use our wetlands wisely,” Ms Latsamay said.

“If we level our wetland areas without good planning, flooding will result. And if we discharge waste water into rivers it will have a negative impact on people's health.

” The Ramsar Wetland Convention was established on February 2, 1971, in . There are currently 158 contracting parties to the convention and 1,717 wetland sites designated of international importance.

is not a signatory to the convention. However, a senior official from the Water Resource and Environment Authority, Mr Sourasay Phoumavong, said the authority had sent a proposal to the government for its consideration. This suggested the country become a signatory and proposed that the Si Phan Done (Four Thousand Islands) area be registered as a conservation area under the convention.

If the government agrees, the Lao proposal will be put forward at the 10th meeting of the conference of signatory parties to be held in October and November this year in the Republic of Korea .

There are more than 30 wetland sites in , with some having been adversely affected by development projects. The Director General of the National Radio Station, Mr Sipha Nonglath, said creating awareness among children was an important issue in the conservation of wetland areas as climate change was beginning to affect the livelihoods of some communities.

By Somsack Pongkhao

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