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Thus the convention has promoted the wise use of wetland resources since its inception in 1971 and especially over the last 12 years, contributing to each nationís sustainable development objectives. The concept of wise use seeks both the formulation and implementation of general wetland policies, and wise use of specific wetlands. These are integral to sustainable development.

However, as recognized by the report of the workshop on wise use presented at COP3, elaboration of national wetland policies can be a long-term process. Noting that political and national constraints are important factors that hinder the formulation of such policies, COP4 recommended that all contracting parties work towards the formulation of comprehensive national wetland policies in the long term, and that such policies be formulated in whatever manner is appropriate to their national institutions and situations.

In 1993, the fifth meeting of the conference of the contracting parties in Kushiro, Japan asked why member states had not adopted national wetland policies, and how wetland policies could be integrated with national environment policies or national conservation strategies. Furthermore, it noted that social and economic factors were the main reasons for wetland loss.

At the sixth meeting of the conference of the contracting parties in Brisbane in 1996, the convention adopted the strategic plan 1997-2002. In line with other past decisions of the conference of the contracting parties, operational objective 2.1 of the strategic plan urges member states to carry out a review, and amend national or supra-national legislation, institutions and practices, to ensure that the guidelines are applied...

Furthermore, each contracting party in 1996 was asked to promote greater efforts to develop national wetland policies, either separately or as a clearly identifiable component of other national conservation planning initiatives such as national environmental action plans, national biodiversity strategies, or national conservation strategies. Recommendation 6.9 of COP6 spells out the need for a framework for the development and implementation of national wetland policies for use by countries which as yet have no policy of this kind. It also calls for examples and illustrations drawing upon such policies. The same recommendation directs the Ramsar Bureau to coordinate specific tasks in the production of guidelines for the development and implementation of national wetland policies.

Wetlands are seldom explicitly covered at a national level in other existing natural resource management policies such as for water, forest, land, agriculture or other sectors. Development of a unique wetland policy statement and/or strategy can be an important step in recognition of wetland problems and targeted action to deal with them. A wetland policy provides a clear opportunity to recognize wetlands as ecosystems requiring different approaches to their management and conservation, and not being masked under other sectoral management objectives.

In many cases, wetland policies or strategies are components of national sustainable development, water or other sectoral environmental policies. The wetland messages can thus become diffused and overpowered by these broader objectives. In many countries, where staff in management agencies are few and face many demands and new challenges daily, dedicated staff time for implementation of wetland commitments or objectives may be overridden by the pressure to deal with the broader issues. This works to the disadvantage of any wetland conservation objective.

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