On the occasion of World Wetlands Day on February 2, IUCN is announcing the launch of a regional project to enhance the resilience of wetlands in Lower Mekong countries. Funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), and to be implemented until 2020, the “Mekong WET: Building Resilience of Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Region” project aims to build climate resilience by harnessing the benefits of wetlands in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
Mekong WET will help the four countries to address their commitments to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, and to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. With wetlands featured as a key ecosystem, the project also supports governments in implementing their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity and pursuing their commitments on climate change adaptation and mitigation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
There are a total of 28 Ramsar sites (or wetlands of international importance) in the four Mekong WET countries. The project will develop management plans, with a focus on climate change adaptation and resilience building, in ten selected Ramsar sites and improve regional collaboration on transboundary wetlands management. This will include the sharing of best practices, as well as capacity building for 150 wetland management staff and 300 community representatives.
The project also aims to share lessons and approaches with a further 18 Ramsar sites, as well as a number of potential or proposed new sites in the four Mekong WET countries.
Wetlands, like marshes, rivers, mangroves, coral reefs, and other coastal and inland habitats, have many important functions, including the regulation of water flows, the provision of clean water and carbon storage.
In the Lower Mekong region, millions of people rely on wetlands for their survival.
In recent decades, infrastructure development, increased deforestation, expansion of irrigated agriculture and increasing urbanisation have resulted in the depletion of spawning and feeding grounds for fish, shrinking wetland habitats, and reduction of water quality. Farmers are increasingly affected by saltwater intrusion, landslides and flash floods, which are intensified by climate change.
In line with this year’s World Wetlands Day theme “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction”, Mekong WET emphasises the important role of healthy wetland ecosystems in reducing disaster risk. Wetlands act as natural buffers by mitigating land erosion, the impact from floods, tsunamis and landslides, and by storing large amounts of water, thereby reducing peak flood flow during the wet season, while maximising water storage during the dry season.
In another important development, the region received a boost with the establishment of the Indo-Burma Ramsar Regional Initiative (IBRRI) in December 2016. With IUCN Asia acting as the secretariat for the initiative, IBRRI aims to support the effective implementation of the Ramsar Convention in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam by supporting the coordinated implementation of the Ramsar Convention's Strategic Plan. IBRRI will play an important advisory role in the implementation of Mekong WET and other wetlands-related projects in the region.
“IBRRI and Mekong WET will not only help to improve regional collaboration on transboundary wetlands management but also help raise awareness that wetlands bring multiple benefits to society,” said Jake Brunner, Head of Indo-Burma Group for IUCN. “Numerous challenges lie ahead as development continues to take a toll on these precious ecosystems. World Wetlands Day shines greater light on the obstacles faced by wetlands and the communities who depend on them.”