Usuario:Lcgarcia/Reflexiones sobre misión RAMSAR

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Reflections about the challenges faced by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for achieving its Mission

The STRATEGIC PLAN 1997-2002 of the Convention states (paragraph 9.) that a greater emphasis will be given to a number of "new orientations for the future", the first three of which are intimately related to the people who perceive the benefits of wetland resource utilisation, cause their transformation and degradation and suffer the consequences of their actions or of the lack of them:

  • "education and public awareness;
  • capacity-building for all stakeholders;
  • inclusion of wetlands in national, provincial and local planning and decision-making, through active and informed participation of local communities, and involvement of the private sector;"

These three new emphasis are written, just about with the same words, for instance in the Colombian Constitution, in the new environmental law and decrees and in very many other official as well as NGO policy and action documents. Thus, there is quite a coincidence of interests and purpose between the Ramsar Convention and, in this case, the Colombian public as well as official approaches to sustainable development. It could not be otherwise, Colombia is signatory country of the Convention.

The crux of the matter lies in the enormous difficulties when one tries to go from the rhetoric mention of the concepts to the actual praxis of understanding and then trying to modify peoples attitudes, actions, feelings, values, traditions and so on, in order to reach some sort of new equilibrium where resources are persistent and their utilisation is permanent.

The diversity of peoples classes, cultures, motivations, and values -even within the same apparently uniform regions in a given country such as Colombia- are rarely or not always fully recognised or taken into account when the strategies are translated into actions, time plans, budgets and institutional responsibilities. Outright references to this diversity and the limitations from it derived, could even be written in the policy papers themselves, but that does not mean that whatever actions are carried out will truly incorporate means to modify the pre-existing conditions.

It is implicitly believed that deeply rooted behaviours, with no apparent social function, can be simply eliminated by education and ecological awareness campaigns. This implies that people's everyday-decisions over resource utilisation are just a matter of ignorance or lack of understanding, when in reality people could be doing what in their perhaps not-conscious decision-making-process is best for themselves, alas conflicting with the interest of "society at large", i. e., the policy makers and implementators, which certainly must obey to a different set of values and therefore require a different decision-making-process.

The challenge of reaching sustainable utilisation of wetlands, at least in rural, underdeveloped poor, Latin America, is the one of: a. understanding peoples motivations and decision making processes; b. designing the social institutions (laws, restrictions, stimuli and punitive controls, and so on) with this understanding as the starting point.

Rural inhabitants in wetlands and flood plains everywhere in the underdeveloped regions of the world strongly depend on local biodiversity for their basic needs: food, fuel, shelter and so on. The tradable surplus generates some complementary income for other goods and services. This relationship is desirable and ought to be maintained and improved, but within a context of an ecological rationality that permits the persistence of the resources and of the physical conditions that make them possible, that elevates to the category of resource other elements presently under-utilised, and stimulates the local transformation (value added) of some resources to improve their price or facilitate their trade. This scenario –sustained development– can only reached if there is a systematic accumulation of information not only about the environment and the resources, but also about the cultural, social and economical reasons of their utilisation patterns. The integrated documentation of the natural and cultural processes should throw light on the possibilities of adequate management, i.e., help to define the type of pilot experiments for sustainable utilisation that ought to be implemented, from the planning stage on, with the active participation of the resource users. The implementation of schemes economically and ecologically sound but socially indiscriminate are a grave risk that could lead to a systematic refusal to change.

Luis Carlos García Lozano
Medellín, February 28, 2000