Implementation of Desertification Convention Seen as Key to Promoting
Sustainable Development, Fighting Poverty in Drylands
31 May, BALI, Indonesia The dust blowing across China that assaulted
Beijing this year went on to reach Japan and Korea, but it did not stop there:
it continued on toward the west coast of North America, disrupting air travel
and causing health problems.
Dust storms are increasing, according to Hama Arba Diallo, Executive Secretary
of Convention to Combat Desertification, and it is affecting areas that have
never though of it as a problem before. In fact, he said, sands blown away from
Africa recently landed in Switzerland.
Land degradation has often been considered a local issues, caused by poor land
management, poor farming techniques, and poor water distribution. But the
problem, which affects an estimated 2.3 billion people in over 100 countries is
now blowing across national boundaries, and is having an international impact.
The issue has emerged as a major issue for the World Summit on Sustainable
Development and United Nations Secretary-General identified land degradation,
which affects as much as two thirds of the world's agricultural land, as one of
the five main areas where the Summit should concentrate efforts to achieve
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that every year, 10 million
hectares of arable land are being lost to desertification, costing the world
close to $42 billion annually. Yet that the price-tag for action to avoid
further degradation would only be $2.4 million.
"No one is listening, but this is a good investment," Diallo said,
but the treaty to halt land degradation, with virtually universal membership,
still has little funding.
There are proposals presently under consideration in the Bali PrepCom to
significantly increase funding to the Desertification Convention through the
Global Environment Facility, but there are some concerns that the GEF could be
stretched too thin unless donor countries agree to a significant replenishment.
Mostafa Tolba, who presided over the Earth Summit+5, and who is a member of a
panel of eminent personalities for the Convention, said it was essential to
address the issue of land degradation if the Johannesburg Summit is to succeed.
"About 70 per cent of the poverty in Asia and Africa is in rural areas. If
you want to address poverty, you have to go where the poverty is.
Implementation of the Convention would be a good way."
According to Tolba, interest in the desertification issue has flagged because
it is not seen as affecting people in developed countries, although dryland
areas of Spain, Portugal and Greece are experiencing degradation. Although
people see a connection between themselves and climate change and ozone
depletion, he said that link is often missing when it comes to
The Desertification Convention, an offspring of the 1992 Earth Summit, calls
for a "bottom-up" participatory approach where people in affected
communities, including women and youth, identify their problems and their
solutions. The process eventually percolates up to the national level where,
countries adopt national action plans. To date, 58 countries have adopted these
plans, and are now looking to donors for resources to implement them.
But desertification has not been a donor priority, Diallo says. Assistance to
hot spots, such as Afghanistan, East Timor and Kosovo, Diallo said, are usually
the explanation donors give why resources to fight desertification are not
Desertification, Diallo said, is not about build barriers to prevent the spread
of the desert, but rather, about taking steps to transform fragile ecosystems
back into land that can produce food. According to Diallo, restoring degraded
lands can also play an important role in mitigating the effects of greenhouse
gases by serving as a carbon sink.
"What we are saying," Diallo said, "is that dealing with land
degradation can lead to win-win scenarios." Partnerships will be important
he said, but since land degradation is typically a problem of the poorest of
the poor, most of the partnerships will necessarily require the public sector.
The development of voluntary partnership initiatives has emerged as a third
major outcome of the Johannesburg Summit. The partnerships, it is hoped, will
go beyond what governments can and must do to implement sustainable
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006