Ramsar Convention COP13

Sri Lanka wins international recognition for valuable but threatened urban wetlands.

Sri Lanka wins international recognition for valuable but threatened urban wetlands 

Land preparation for rice production within the city limits of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: Samurdhi Ranasinghe/IWMI
Land preparation for rice production within the city limits of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: Samurdhi Ranasinghe/IWMI

Colombo, Sri Lanka, has earned a place among 17 winners of Wetland City Accreditation under a new scheme created by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands worldwide. The new scheme aims to increase awareness of the many economic and social benefits that accrue from urban wetlands, including flood control, local food security and livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and even air pollution control.

The winners were announced on October 25 at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP13), held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This decision shines an international spotlight on the city’s exceptional natural setting and on the efforts of local organizations to enhance the value of the Colombo wetlands for the benefit of all citizens. The Colombo Wetland Complex covers 1,900 hectares or about 8% of the city’s total area.

“We are very pleased with this outcome, which gives due recognition to a long series of legal and policy measures taken to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Colombo Wetland Complex amidst rapid urban development,” said N.S. Wijayarathna, deputy general manager (wetland management) with the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC), Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. “Winning wetland city accreditation reinforces our resolve to implement the wetland management strategy prepared in 2016, with the aim of improving wetland governance, management and monitoring.”

Wijayarathna acknowledged the assistance his team received from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), headquartered in Sri Lanka, in preparing the nomination of Colombo for the Ramsar scheme. IWMI is a Ramsar international organization partner (IOP) and has conducted research on wetland management in Sri Lanka and other countries, including India and Thailand. This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), supported by the donors of the CGIAR Trust Fund.

“We are happy to see this important effort come to fruition,” said Priyanie Amerasinghe, a senior researcher at IWMI. “Ramsar accreditation of the Colombo wetlands reaffirms our message about their vital importance, and it lends urgency to efforts aimed at halting their steady loss and degradation, which is occurring at an estimated rate of 1.2% annually.”

“To better preserve and deliver benefits from Colombo’s wetlands, we are mainstreaming them in the city’s development planning, based on clear guidelines; this is a key step toward the Ramsar goal of wise use of wetlands,” said Chandana Kalapuhana, director environment and landscape with the Urban Development Authority (UDA), Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development.

Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife and Conservation, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, has been the country’s official link with Ramsar since the country signed the treaty in 1990. Six sites around the country are already included in Ramsar’s list of wetlands of international importance.

Representatives from Sri Lanka took part in a side event at Ramsar COP13, in which they shared insights, lessons learned and best practices from their efforts to conserve and restore Colombo’s wetlands. COP13 attracted more than 1,000 champions of wetlands from around the globe to address the theme “urban wetlands for a sustainable future.”

“It’s exciting to see how Colombo is using its wetlands as a way of adding value to the urban space – better protecting the city, while fostering green growth,” said Claudia Sadoff, director general of IWMI. “I don’t know of another city built this mindfully around its wetlands. Colombo is an example for visionary management of urban wetlands worldwide.”

Farmers at work in a field within city limits
Photo: Samurdhi Ranasinghe / IWMI

IWMI at Ramsar COP13

As a Ramsar IOP, IWMI is playing an active role at COP13 through feedback on draft resolutions and participation in various sessions. One of our researchers (Sanjiv de Silva) was a contributing author of the Global Wetlands Outlook, a Ramsar flagship output launched at COP13. Another IWMI researcher (Lisa-Maria Rebelo) was the lead coordinating author of a new Ramsar Technical Report – The Use of Earth Observation for Wetland Inventory, Assessment and Monitoring – also launched at COP 13.

View our video about the Colombo Wetlands.

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