Vientiane, 1 February 2017
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February. This day marks the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971. Every year since 1997, communities and government organisations have been raising public awareness of the value and benefit of wetlands on this day. The Ramsar Convention is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran where the agreement was signed.
Villagers in the wetland of Beung Kiat Ngong, Champassack Province. Photo: FAO Lao PDR/Xavier Bouan
Older generations used to tell the story of how fascinating it was to see turtles moving around in the wetlands of Bueng Kiat Ngong in Champassak. The turtles could be easily observed from the back of elephants, when riding across the wetlands. Recently, Mr. Soukkhaseum Phothisanh and Mr. Kideng Thammavong, who are both former Governors of Savannakhet Province, have shared with me that in the stagnant waters of the Xe Champhone River in Savannakhet there is still a variety of aquatic animals, reptiles and amphibians. Aquatic animals like snakehead fish, catfish, knife fish and several types of carps enjoy living in marshes and silts. These fish types are joined by softshell turtles, eels, crabs, shrimps, mussels, rhinoceros beetles, giant water bugs and other insects (like Maeng Ket-tao, Maeng Eed, Maeng La-ngam). Reptiles include Siamese crocodiles, water monitors, Bengal monitors, many species of turtles and tortoises, lizards and snakes. Amphibians include frogs, tree frogs and bullfrogs. Macaques inhabit the trees around the wetlands.
In the light of the abundance of species in the wetland areas, I am personally very happy to hear that Laos joined the Ramsar Convention in September 2010, becoming the 160th signatory to the convention. Since then, more countries joined, adding up to 169 countries across the world ratifying the convention. Even more delighted I am by the news that the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment, in cooperation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization established a project that aims to help communities living in the significant wetlands of Xe Champhone and Bueng Kiat Ngong. The aim is to help the communities to adapt to climate change through the development of sustainable livelihoods, as well as the rehabilitation and sustainable management of these two globally significant wetland sites of the Ramsar Convention.
I greatly hope that the project will create opportunities for younger generations to learn about the stories passed on by elder generations like myself and the two former Provincial Governors. I also hope to see the successes of the project spread across all other wetlands of Laos.
Wetlands are ecologically, economically and culturally significant for Lao people. They are important to aquatic animals because at the end of the rainy season, during the Ancestor Festival, fish and other aquatic species living in paddy fields, ponds and streams will migrate to marshes and lakes where they can still access water in the dry season for shelter. On the one hand, some species will migrate from deep pools to paddy fields, ponds, and streams where there is more water in the rainy season. Hydrologically, wetlands store water and filter it before draining into large rivers. During dry season, wetlands will store enough water to maintain the ecosystems in the area.
What I mentioned above is only a small part of significant features of wetlands. Supporting wetland-dependent communities and protecting the two wetlands sites of Xe Champhone and Bueng Kiat Ngong is vital for the present and future of ecosystems in the whole country – and I am happy the government has recognised their value.
This article is written by Dr. Sisalieo Sawaengsuksa who is the President of the Association to Support the Development of Peasant Societies and Lao Framers’ Products. He holds a PHD in Geography and was a Member of the Lao National Assembly during the 7th Legislature (2011-2016).
For more information, please contact:
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE)
National Project Coordinator
Climate Change Adaptation in Wetlands Areas (CAWA) project
Mobile: +856 20 22231200
Office: +856 21 219354
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN)
Chief Technical Advisor, CAWA project
Mobile: +856 20 22235604
Office: +856 21 413205
IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature
Lao PDR office
Head of Office
Office: +856 21 417455