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Wetlands and Coastal Zones Bulletin
Volume 1, No. 2

Editorial

COP7: "People and Wetlands – A Vital Link"

This concept, the central theme of the event, will be the motif that orients the 7th Meeting of Signatories to the Convention on Wetlands, or Ramsar Convention, to be held in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 10 to 18, 1999.

I don’t believe it is difficult to demonstrate the existence of this vital link between people and wetlands. Almost without exception, these areas are extremely useful for societies, whether because of their ecological functions or for the direct and indirect benefits they provide for the welfare of people and development. The old, deep-rooted concept of wetlands as infected swamps that should be drained is now giving way surprisingly rapidly to an appreciation of the tangible and intangible benefits provided by these ecosystems. As always, there are exceptions to the rule, and wetlands continue to be drained, polluted and transformed. But the movement to conserve wetlands and use them sustainably, to a large extent embodied in the Ramsar Convention, is winning more converts every day.

Attesting to this are the Convention’s 110 member countries, including all of Mesoamérica. Together these signatories have designated more than 900 sites for inclusion on the Ramsar List of Wetlands Areas with International Importance, all together extending over 68 million hectares.

"Ramsar and Water" will be one of the key issues of debate at "COP7," as we call the event for short. Water, an increasingly scarce resource, is at the very heart of the international community’s concern, and the Ramsar Convention will not be able to stay out of that debate. Indeed, given its urgings and the mechanisms that have been developed, Ramsar must prepare to make its rightful contribution on behalf of comprehensive management of aquatic resources. The basic premise is that to make sure people have the water they need for their well-being and development, ecosystems that contribute water must be healthy, and this includes wetlands.

The participation of all levels of society in wetlands management will be another central issue of debate. Without the participation of local communities and indigenous peoples, and particularly women, but also business and the private sector, academic groups, nongovernmental organizations, lawmakers, educators—in a word, all those interested and/or affected by the mere existence and/or use made of natural resources--their long-term conservation and sustainable use cannot be guaranteed. We must all be conscious of this and take the corresponding actions.

International cooperation, in particular trans-border cooperation with respect to shared wetlands and aquatic resources, are also issues that participants of the event will have to roll up their sleeves and deal with. Water crosses borders, sometimes at the surface and sometimes deep below. This requires governments and private citizens to find an ideal and equitable forum where this fact of nature can produce fruitful contacts, not confrontation and conflict. The Ramsar Convention must be an instrument for this purpose.

Lastly, planning mechanisms, including legislation and techniques for restoring degraded wetlands, can also be an important topic of discussion, as long as we intend to move beyond mere debate. Concrete measures for action will have to be recommended and adopted.

COP7 will be an important event in the history of Ramsar, because the Convention must emerge from this meeting renewed, strengthened, and prepared to make a definitive contribution to planetary sustainable development, in synergy with the other great environmental treaties.

Delmar Blasco
Secretary General
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

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