Wetlands International (coordinator), European Water Association, World Wide Fund For Nature International
Better interaction of water resources and ecosystems management
Services delivered by water dependent ecosystems or wetlands are of significant importance to millions of people. They are both dependent on water and also frequently exert a significant influence on the quantity and quality of water itself. Therefore they should be an integral part of development strategy and related water management goals. They provide food and water to support people’s basic needs and resources that can be used to generate income. They play a role in mitigating disasters such as flood, drought and water pollution events and can be vital to adapt to climate change. This in addition their more widely understood importance to biodiversity. As such ecosystems are a “natural infrastructure” that needs to be maintained and restored to serve the needs of people. Global scale syntheses and analyses such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative have strongly recognised these facts and they are enshrined in the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and most recently the Convention on Biodiversity’s Strategic plan for the next 20 years.
Despite this, wetland ecosystems in general are being lost and degraded at an alarming rate. Many important economic sectors and actors are driving this. Agriculture, the energy sector, urban areas and industry all stimulate water resource use that impacts wetlands. Changes in water quantity, quality and regime affect wetlands significantly often putting people’s livelihoods at risk, enhancing risk from disaster and climate change and threatening biodiversity. Water management needs to improve the way it balances the needs of different users including ecosystems and how it uses ecosystems as infrastructure to achieve its goals if this situation is to change.
However, ensuring that ecosystem maintenance and restoration are integrated into sound water resource management remains a significant challenge in many parts of the world. Conservation has succeeded in identifying and managing important ecosystem types on the basis of their importance for biodiversity. However, it has been weak in recognising and influencing local to landscape scale water management to safeguard these achievements. Furthermore, this approach has focused attention on delivery of water for biodiversity jewels whilst neglecting the wider ecosystem resource that is hugely important for both regulating water and delivering resources to people. A consequence of this is that the importance of ecosystems to the goals of water managers is not always understood and not translated into policy planning and management. There is an urgent need to explore how to bring the roles of ecosystems centre stage for water resource managers.
Commitments will be stimulated amongst responsible government and inter-government organisations responsible for water management to fill these gaps in policy and its implementation. Commitments from provincial to basin scale will be sought to mainstream ecosystems into policy that relates to both surface water and groundwater quality and quantity planning and management. Furthermore the PFA will be used to showcase best practices for policy implementation, both those that are already recognised though insufficiently implemented and those that are innovative and are expected to play a significant role in the future.