Statement at the Signing Ceremony of Wetlands Project Addendum

07 May 2013

Bismillah – hey – Rahman – ur – Rehim,

Salaam va Sobhe be kheyr.

Your Excellency, Vice-President Mr. Mohammadizadeh,

Representatives of NGOs and the local communities, Esteemed colleagues of the Department of Environment,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted and honoured to be here today to commemorate this special event as we sign the Addendum to the Conservation of the Iran Wetlands Project.

By signing the Addendum with you, the United Nations is doing two things.  First, we are underscoring our commitment to Iran’s environmental conservation.  Second, we are reinforcing the strength of our long-standing partnership with the Department of Environment.

Over the years we have done much together.  Because I am a new guest in your country, in preparation for this event today, I asked my team about the history of this cooperation.  I learnt that Iran and the United Nations have – together – done much to preserve a number of critical species and ecosystems.  Together we have developed policies and laws.  By supporting environmental integration into Iran’s national and sectoral planning, we have also helped Iran to fulfill its commitment as a signatory to a number of different Conventions.

The most important of these is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  But the list also extends to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

In sum, the United Nations is proud and privileged to have partnered with the Department of Environment to promote a number of initiatives which deliver sustainable development in Iran.

One among these initiatives is our joint Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project.  This is the project which we will scale up today.  In doing so, we recognize its success.  And we signal the continuing need for such initiatives as we strive to save our wetlands.

But – before I speak of the project, and what we hope to achieve with this extension, I would like to place my remarks in context.  And this context is the gravity of the threat we humans pose to our own environment.  There are many in the audience today who are experts on wetlands.  But for those who are not, I would like to share my own understanding of the nature and extent of the threat that we face.

First of all, wetland ecosystems are critical to humans.  Why?  Because they provide us with food, fresh water, fuel, medicinal extracts and genetic materials.  They regulate climate.  They help us to re-charge our water supply.  They help purify our water.  They help the soil to resist erosion.  Crucially – in our era of natural disaster hazards – they also serve us by regulating flood control.  All of this is before we start to speak of the cultural and recreational value of our wetland ecosystems.

Here is another way to look at it.  If we were to convert the economic benefits of wetlands into dollar terms the number would astound you.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment estimates that wetlands provide all of humanity with services worth the equivalent of 15 trillion US dollars.  No wonder local communities – particularly those living near wetlands – are highly dependent on these services and are directly harmed when they are damaged.

We therefore need to change the view – which we sometimes hear – that wetlands are unproductive and worthless.  In reality, they are absolutely vital to society.

And yet, at the global level, we are witnessing the loss – or the degradation – of wetlands at a faster rate than what we see for any other ecosystem.

As climate change accelerates – including in Iran – we will see wetlands continue to decline.  The number of wetland species will also decrease.  Vector-borne and water-borne diseases will increase.  And as climate change continues to produce adverse effects – such as the rise in sea level, coral bleaching, and changes in the temperature of water bodies – all of this will all have a negative impact on our wetlands.  And we will be able to draw less and less from them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the enormous challenges we face.  What have we been doing about it?

One contribution and – I think – an important contribution – has been our Conservation of Iran Wetlands Project.

Over the past eight years, the Project has delivered effective management systems to reduce – and in some cases remove – threats to our wetland-protected areas. 
These changes have come at the national, provincial and local levels.

At the national level, we now have the National Wetland Conservation Strategy and an Action Plan as a result of the Project.  At the provincial level and the basin level, we now have Integrated Management Plans.  These are being implemented in our three demonstration sites.  These are Lake Urumiyeh – shared between Azeribaijan e Sharqi and Azerbaijan e Gharbi – but also touching Kurdistan as part of the same drainage basin.  The second is Lake Parishan in Fars province.  Finally, we have the Shadegan wetland in Khuzestan.

I’m particularly impressed by what I have heard about the Project’s efforts to engage local communities.  For any project to succeed, it must fully engage with the community.  Nothing should be done for people without actively involving these same communities in making decisions.  As a result of the Project, local communities now sit in the management structures of our wetland decision making bodies.  Is it not impressive to see representatives of local communities in the wetlands management committees of Lake Parishan and the Shadegan wetlands?  Can this local governance model be replicated in other Iranian wetlands?  We think so.

However, our project work will not be successful unless we can help farmers to improve their livelihoods and incomes.  One success story is our joint work – again – at Lake Parishan.  Here we introduced local communities to environmental-friendly agriculture.  The result?  We helped to improve profits for many farmers – partially by working with them to reduce water consumption by over 40 per cent.  They also significantly reduced fertilizer and pesticides use – and yet – were able to increase some yields by as much as 60 per cent.  We are now repeating these lessons in the Zagros mountain ecosystem.

Women’s empowerment has been another key achievement of the Project.  This has occurred largely through a number of capacity-building initiatives leading to the establishment of local micro-credit funds.

Our Project has also acted as a platform for South-South cooperation in our region.  A recent wetlands project management workshop – for example – organized in Iran – hosted 12 other wetlands projects from 15 countries in our neighbourhood.  The Project has initiated cooperation with the Ramsar Convention – and bilateral partners such as the Governments of Japan, Netherlands, Pakistan and Turkey.

So – given all of this – today – I am delighted that we will jointly agree to sign the Addendum and expand our project to new horizons.

In its new phase, the project will:

·         Continue to support wetlands management plans for the current 3 demonstration sites Lake Urumiyeh, Lake Parishan and Shadegan wetlands.

·         It will repeat our experience in 8 new wetland sites – which are still to be decided.

·         It will help devise laws to support wetlands ecosystem management.

·         It will extend the Project’s knowledge and lessons learnt with the entire region of South and Central Asia.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We in the United Nations consider this Wetlands project to be a very successful partnership between the Government and People of the Islamic Republic of Iran and UNDP.

With this new Addendum, the project will continue to achieve greater success.  I join those on the podium here today in wishing the best for the future of this project. 

And I pledge the fullest support of the United Nations to our common goals.

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Statement at the Signing Ceremony of Wetlands Project Addendum

Mr. Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Iran