"Wetland restoration is central to achieving water security especially in severely affected areas"
The Convention on Wetlands is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources, through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.
Wetland ecosystems are the planet’s most threatened ecosystems, even though they provide essential services and supply, directly or indirectly, to almost all our freshwater. These ecosystems underpin the resilience of water and food systems and are key to meeting climate and biodiversity goals. We had the opportunity to ask Dr Musonda Mumba, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands, about the links between wetland ecosystems and water security.
Can you tell us what it means for you to work on environment and sustainable development at the highest level of international organisations?
There is greater responsibility and accountability at this level. Considering that we are a convention and are serving the contracting parties, it also gives us an opportunity to share experiences from around the world on what’s happening around wetland ecosystems. As the Secretary General of this convention, I also have the responsibility to help connect the dots across the multilateral space and raise the visibility of our convention.
What do you think are some of the most pressing challenges for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the coming years?
I think some of the most pressing challenges revolve around the triple planetary crises linked to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Wetlands are suffering from these three with severe consequences for people and nature alike.
What role do wetlands play in ensuring water security, and how are they connected?
As the Secretary General, I have the responsibility to help connect the dots across the multilateral space and raise the visibility of our convention
Wetlands by their nature are linked to water from source to sea. Water sources in mountains and high-elevation areas come from springs that are wetlands; when there are changes in the landscape, such as degradation, compounded further by climate change - we see water insecurity as a consequence. Remember what happened along the Loire Valley in France in 2022 when much of the river dried up. Places like the Aral Sea and Lake Chad have both seen such water insecurity over the years with severe implications for communities and livelihoods.
How can wetland restoration and conservation contribute to achieving water security goals?
Wetland restoration is indeed central to achieving water security goals, especially in severely affected areas. However, the restoration requires a landscape approach with concerted efforts across sectors because their degradation is linked to multiple factors.
Could you discuss some successful examples of wetland restoration projects that have improved water security, and what lessons can be learned from them?
I would point to the Mangrove restoration done by Ms Fernanda Samuel, National Coordinator of Mangrove Protection and Restoration in Angola. She prevented more than 17,000 hectares of mangroves from being destroyed by the construction of ports and the oil industry. With more than 4,500 volunteers, an estimated 3,000 hectares of mangroves have been restored. Migratory birds have returned - and fishing communities have benefited from the return of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. For her efforts, Fernanda received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for Young Wetland Champions in 2022.
The ambition of the Convention on Wetlands has been to have a balance between the conservation and wise use of wetlands ecosystems
A second restoration project is the ongoing restoration of the Govan Wetlands in Glasgow in the United Kingdom. The project was the winner of the Pitch for the Grant 2022, a new 10,000 euros grant from Danone to fund wetland conservation.
Finally, the Namami Gange project in India aims to restore the ancient Ganges River. This programme is reforesting parts of the Ganges basin and safeguarding its wildlife and all those who depend on it. This is one of the 10 flagship initiatives under the UN decade on Ecosystem restoration.
How can wetland conservation efforts be balanced with economic development and other land use priorities?
The Convention on Wetlands founded in 1971 coined the term “wise use” ahead of the use of “sustainable development”. As the most experienced Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA), the ambition has been to have a balance between the conservation and wise use of wetlands spaces and ecosystems. This is also why partnerships matter across a landscape, to agree on a meaningful use of the landscape as it relates to the wetland system.
From your experience working within UN system organisations, to what extent are wetland protection and restoration goals integrated into water security and 2030 Agenda discussions, and is there room for improvement?
Wetland restoration requires a landscape approach with concerted efforts across sectors because degradation is linked to multiple factors
In 2019 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration was passed as a UN Decade aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and this was a milestone. As a convention, we are part of this decade and also the SDGs, and actually a co-custodian of SDG 6 indicator 6.6.1 – change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time – jointly with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This has provided an opportunity for us to be at the table and bring the wetlands agenda into the UN system and processes. We are the only Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) that sits outside of the UN system. However, we are a Multilateral body.
The UN Water Conference 2023 aims to accelerate action for water and achieve SDG 6. What outcomes do you expect in relation to wetlands?
This is indeed an important moment for wetlands and for our convention. We know that the challenges of water, particularly droughts, floods and other issues such as plastics manifest more pronouncedly in wetland systems. This year 2023 – on the margins of the SDG Summit following the UN Water Conference - the world will be discussing the progress made under SDG 6. And do note we don’t have much time left with less than 7 years left before the end of the SDGs in 2030.