Background

The Mediterranean region is unique due to its very specific climate and very long history of human use. For thousands of years, the wetlands around the Mediterranean Basin have provided people not only with essential services like water, food, materials and transport, but have also played a major part in their social and cultural activities. Major civilisations were established in association with water bodies and have depended on wetlands for their livelihood; for example, the ancient Egyptians with the Nile, the Mesopotamians with the Tigris. Major cities like Venice and Tunis have been built in or very close to wetlands.

In the 20th century, with the advent of industrialisation, intensive agriculture, urbanisation, population pressures and legitimate health considerations, the bond between man and wetland was severed and hence many wetlands were destroyed (Benessaiah, 1998). Wetlands were perceived as menacing places filled with dangerous animals, evil spirits and disease-carrying insects that needed to be ‘sanitized’ or seen as unimportant, fallow land to be drained or converted to other uses. This resulted in an estimated loss of wetlands as high as 50% during the twentieth century and the degradation of many of the remaining wetlands has undermined their role and reduced substantially their services to humanity.

The problem was clearly documented during a major symposium, held in the Italian town of Grado in February 1991. This led to a decision for joint action –encapsulated in the Grado Declaration and Strategy, which resulted in 1992 in the establishment of MedWet, the first regional initiative of the Ramsar Convention.

Two decades later, a similar pan-Mediterranean symposium is organised in the Moroccan city of Agadir to review the situation, assess the new challenges and plan for the next twenty years.

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