In the last year, we witnessed a large number of natural disasters. In many of them, wetlands played a role in preventing and mitigating their impacts. In some situations, the loss and degradation of wetlands led to greater losses of human life and increased poverty amongst local communities.
Hurricanes and tsunami-floods can be mitigated by coastal nature. The worst effects of river floods and droughts can be prevented by good management of water and wetlands in catchment areas. The threat of avian influenza, which may be further spread by waterbirds on migration, demands concerted global action. Wetlands International sees many opportunities for the Ramsar Convention to influence how the world prepares for and manages these disasters, which are likely to become more intense and frequent following climate change. The Convention should increase its political impact and react to the challenges of natural water disasters and avian influenza. Our five most important requests of Ramsar Contracting Parties at COP9: 1) Create a Convention with enough political impact. The Convention is not currently having sufficiently strong political impact. A new strategic plan for the Convention should be developed with a clear vision and ensure that the Contracting Parties are accountable for implementing resolutions. 2) React adequately to the global threat of avian influenza. Many countries do not have the capacity to respond adequately on an outbreak of avian ‘flu. Contracting Parties should raise awareness about the risks of the ‘flu and should support research and monitoring of disease processes in wild birds. 3) Take action to prevent and mitigate floods and droughts. River floodplains and coastal wetland ecosystems should be protected and restored as part of water resource and coastal zone management. High altitude peatlands such as those in the Himalayas should be conserved to prevent damaging downstream impacts. The ongoing destruction of coastal nature like mangroves and coral reefs should be halted to protect coastal communities against hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis. 4) Take action to prevent and mitigate droughts in the Sahel. Contracting Parties in the Sahelian zone, the Niger Basin Authority, The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the African Development Bank should work on integrated and socially equitable management of water. The decision-support tool developed for the Upper Catchment of the Niger is a good example. 5) Restore the budgets for scientific services. Greater investment in understanding and monitoring the condition of wetlands, their dependent wildlife, uses and values is essential to underpin national and global policy decisions, risk assessments and responses to avian flu and natural disasters. Jane Madgwick CEO of Wetlands International
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