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 162 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 2,040 wetland sites, totaling 193 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
"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".
The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including swamps and marshes, lakes and rivers, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.
Wetlands provide fundamental ecological services and are regulators of water regimes and sources of biodiversity at all levels - species, genetic and ecosystem.
Wetlands constitute a resource of great economic, scientific, cultural, and recreational value for the community.
Wetlands play a vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Progressive encroachment on, and loss of, wetlands cause serious and sometimes irreparable environmental damage to the provision of ecosystem services.
Wetlands should be restored and rehabilitated, whenever possible. Wetlands should be conserved by ensuring their wise use.
Wise use of Wetlands
Wise use of wetlands is defined as
"the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development".
Wise use therefore has at its heart the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind.
The Contracting Parties
Under the 3 pillars of the Convention, the Parties have committed themselves to:
Work towards the wise use of all their wetlands through national land-use planning, appropriate policies and legislation, management actions, and public education;
The Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP) meets every 3 years and promotes policies and guidelines to further the application of the Convention.
The Standing Committee, made up of Parties representing the 6 Ramsar regions of the world, meets annually to guide the Convention between meetings of the COP.
The Scientific and Technical Review Panel provides guidance on key issues for the Convention.
The Ramsar Secretariat manages the day-to-day activities of the Convention.
The MedWet Initiative, with its Secretariat in Athens, provides a model for regional wetland cooperation now being emulated by regional initiatives under the Convention in many parts of the world.
Nationally, each Contracting Party designates an Administrative Authority as its focal point for implementation of the Convention.
Countries are encouraged to establish National Wetland Committees, involving all government sectors dealing with water resources, development planning, protected areas, biodiversity, tourism, education, development assistance, etc. Participation by NGOs and civil society is also encouraged.
Ramsar sites facing problems in maintaining their ecological character can be placed by the country concerned on a special list, the Montreux Record, and technical assistance to help solve the problems can be provided.
Eligible countries can apply to a Ramsar Small Grants Fund and Wetlands for the Future Fund for financial assistance to implement wetland conservation and wise use projects.