With the accession of Lao PDR to the Ramsar Convention in 2010, all the countries of the Lower Mekong River Basin are now Contracting Parties to the Convention. In order to assist the Lao government in their implementation of the Convention, the IUCN Mekong Water Dialogues project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, together with additional support from the Ramsar Secretariat, organized a workshop from 21 - 25 March 2011 in Vientiane, Lao PDR.
The workshop brought together for the first time, the Ramsar Administrative Authorities, Ramsar Site managers, relevant regional NGOs and other wetland experts from the region to share their experiences and best practices for wetland conservation and wise use, and was attended by some 30 participants from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as China.
The first two days of the workshop was spent in Thailand at the Kud Ting Ramsar Site, close to the border with Lao PDR. The visit was organised by Yanyong Sricharoen, Head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Thailand Freshwater Programme, and his team. It gave participants an opportunity to see a field project that has been successful in working with the local community from some 18 villages around Kud Ting to ensure the conservation and wise use of the site. Kud Ting is a semi-natural lake and marshland in the floodplains of the Mekong River. Kud Ting increases in size during the rainy season due to the backup of water from the Mekong which also brings fishes into the lake to breed. Fisheries are one of the important sources of livelihood for the community and WWF has been working with the fishermen to establish more sustainable fishing practices, including the establishment of fish conservation zones along the lake’s edge.
The project has also been successful in working with local schools to incorporate greater awareness of the importance of Kud Ting into the different subject areas of the curriculum. Importantly, the project has established officially recognised local bodies that will continue the work into the future, including a local site committee and a provincial wetlands committee, both with broad stakeholder representation. Local by-laws and regulations have been issued to provide a legal basis for the participatory demarcation of the wetland and rules on use of the wetland that were established by the communities themselves.
Overall, the field visit gave participants a valuable insight into the importance of a bottom-up approach to sustainable wetland conservation. “The project helped us to set things up, but now we can continue by ourselves – we are not worried about the WWF project ending” said Mr.Songkarn Wong-on the Head Man of Baan Na Kham village.
Participants then returned to Vientiane for a two day workshop that allowed them to discuss and exchange experiences from their work on the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Topics ranged from site based issues, such as best practices for working with local communities, and techniques for carrying out Communication, Education, and Public Awareness (CEPA) and ecotourism programmes, to issues at the national policy level, such as the benefits from conducting national wetland inventories and developing appropriate national strategies, policies and laws for wetland conservation.
“Our national wetland inventory has not been updated since 1996, and some of those wetlands may now no longer exist” said Latsamay Sylavong, IUCN Country Representative for Lao PDR adding that “we are making a new start on it this year”. Lastly, participants discussed a proposal to establish a Ramsar Regional Initiative for conserving the wetlands in the Lower Mekong Region with a broad based membership involving governments, NGOs, academic institutions and other relevant stakeholders. The overall result was positive and IUCN together with GIZ will now discuss in more detail the possibility of setting up such an initiative. At the same time, the Mekong Water Dialogues will continue to support stakeholder participation in the development of a National Wetlands Strategy, and Wetlands Management Plans for Beung Kiat Ngong and Xe Champone in Lao PDR.
On the final day, a special seminar was held in Vientiane for representatives from the different central government ministries, as well as for officials responsible for the capital city, to introduce them to the importance of wetlands and the Ramsar Convention. The seminar was chaired by H.E. Sisavath Vithaxay, Vice President of the Water Resources and Environment Administration (WREA) who explained the serious intention of the Lao government to implement the Ramsar Convention effectively. During the seminar, senior officials from the Lao government showed their commitment to implementing the Ramsar Convention and to designate further Ramsar Sites within Lao PDR.
Mention was also made about the importance of the That Luang wetlands on the outskirts of the Vientiane. The site is a good example of the wise use of wetlands as the city does not have any sewage treatment plant and instead, the waste water is passed through the rice paddy, marsh and channels that make up the wetland before the naturally treated waste water is released into the Mekong River. In the summer of 2010, a development proposal over the site was rejected by the government and an alternative use for the site that would benefit the whole community is now being discussed.
“I believe that Beung That Luang could be the next Ramsar site in Lao PDR” said Mr. Khampadith Khammounheuang, Deputy Director, DoE. This includes the possibility of managing it for wetland education and recreation, as well as maintaining and enhancing the natural waste water treatment services that it currently provides.