Operations of the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands in light of the Coronavirus pandemic
To: Administrative Authorities and National Focal Points
Dear representatives of Contracting Parties,
I am writing to update you on actions the Secretariat has taken over the past weeks to ensure the safety of staff while continuing to support Contracting Parties in the implementation of the Convention during the Coronavirus crisis.
The Secretariat has been monitoring closely the situation, working closely with IUCN’s Emergency Team on which we are represented by Deputy Secretary General Jay Aldous. This team meets daily to follow information coming from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Geneva Office, the Swiss Federal Council and the Canton of Vaud authorities and takes decisions regarding staff safety and continuity of operations. In early March a number of precautions were implemented in our office including limiting in-person meetings, having 50% of staff work from home on selected days to limit the overall number of staff in the building and a hygiene campaign encouraging handwashing and social distancing. In anticipation of the possibility of the Swiss government implementing a work-from-home guidance, the Secretariat undertook training of all staff and several tests of technology platforms and tools to ensure that the Secretariat could maintain all operational functions while working remotely. All of these tests were successful. On 16 March the decision was taken to have all staff work from home. I am pleased to report that we have been able to effectively carry out the work of the Secretariat these past two weeks while working remotely. This arrangement will be in place until further notice. In this context, please note the following:
- Staff can be reached on their e-mail accounts. Skype for Business and GoToMeeting are being used to facilitate virtual meetings. Convention platforms such as RSIS and the STRP workspace are fully operational. We have also in place remotely accessible platforms for all administrative operations.
- Because access to the Secretariat Headquarters building is restricted, we would appreciate to avoid sending communications by mail and rather use electronic communications. While we have a system in place to receive and scan posted documents, we are able to respond more efficiently to electronic communications.
- No in-person meetings will be organized, and no staff will be able to travel for official meetings or missions until further notice.
Despite the current challenging circumstances, the Convention’s Secretariat is committed to providing the best possible level of service to our Contracting Parties and to put in place new systems and ways of working to ensure that the work of the Convention continues to progress.
In this regard, as you know, the Management Working Group took the decision on 6 March to cancel the 23rd meeting of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP23) and proposed that the STRP carry forward the four highest priority tasks in a virtual manner. I am pleased to report that under the leadership of the new STRP Chair Professor Lei Guangchun the work of the Panel is advancing with each of the four task leads and teams implementing task specific work plans. A communication is being sent to STRP members to update them on progress made and next steps.
Given that the date of the 58th meeting of the Standing Committee scheduled on 22 – 26 June 2019 is approaching, the Secretariat is consulting with the Executive Team, which will then make a recommendation for consideration of the Standing Committee on possible scenarios regarding the organization of this meeting. We will be communicating to Contracting Parties the decision of the Committee in mid-April.
I know many of you are also working remotely or have had to make significant adjustments to how you work. Please let the appropriate Secretariat staff know if we need to make any adjustments in how we correspond with you and support your work. Please count on my full commitment and that of my team to support Contracting Parties in carrying forward the work of the Convention during this challenging time. Further updates will follow as we continue to monitor the situation and adapt our work accordingly.
With kind regards,
Martha Rojas Urrego
Martha Rojas Urrego
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
28 rue Mauverney, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland
Tel. +41 22 999 0180; mobile +41 79 570 7376 fax +41 22 999 0169