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A weather eye on.....

Tiempo's roving reporter, Weather Eye, comments on the issues of the day.

Weather Eye takes a serious look at progress in combating desertification, an acute problem for too many of the world’s population.

The Second Session of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention to Combat Desertification was held in Dakar, Senegal between November 30th and December 11th 1998.

The meeting was an important event in a number of respects. It was the first time that all the members of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification had formally met to report on their national actions to fight land degradation and reduce the effects of drought. It was also said to be the largest such meeting ever held in Africa. The need for substantial agreement on further action was becoming increasingly obvious as recent figures showed land degradation was increasing rapidly.

Around 1,500 participants from over 140 countries attended the meeting. This included over 200 experts from 50 countries as well as delegates from the, approximately, 140 nations that have ratified the Convention.

The first of the main points on the conference agenda was the reporting by the Parties on their activities and programmes. This included the description of efforts, by developed countries and multilateral institutions, to promote projects and activities for combating desertification in developing countries that are affected by dryland degradation. Developing country delegates presented statements on how they are implementing the Convention with those who had already established national action programmes describing how their programmes were advancing. Only five African nations have so far managed to complete drawing up their national action plans against desertification: Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. In Latin America, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil are at the stage of having elaborated their plans.

Another main point on the conference agenda was the issue of institutional arrangements including financial rules and rules of procedure. Developing countries are struggling to devise comprehensive and substantial programmes with limited financial resources. Conference organizers voiced concern that a large percentage of international funds for fighting environmental problems is provided to deal with issues such as climate change and water management at the expense of desertification problems. Figures released just before the conference showed that desertification problems and related issues generate costs of around US$42 billion a year yet these estimates still do not reveal the full social and economic damage for the most affected areas.

Hama Diallo, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, pointed out that “developed countries are spending billions to cut the effects of greenhouse gases. We must show them that desertification is a global environmental problem and that if they don’t do something, they’ll feel the consequences themselves.” He commented that to implement action plans at national, sub-regional and regional levels would require a great deal of expertise as well as technical and financial resources. He also stated that the countries which had produced national action plans to date had succeeded in doing so mainly through the contribution of local experts and a high commitment of support from their international partners. Finally, Hama Diallo noted that the majority of countries which had not yet completed their action plans were mainly those which were not familiar with the “participative approach” or had little experience in cooperating with non-governmental organizations and other grassroots organizations.

Positive discussion and agreement was hindered to a large degree by disparate views held by delegates from the African nations and those representing the European Union over how to implement the six-point programme which was first presented and recommended at the first conference in Rome in 1997.

One of the main points of disagreement had to do with the implementation of a mid-term strategy which was aimed at curbing desert encroachment in the African Sahel region. The European Union group wanted four of the six points of the programme to be dropped, thereby significantly reducing the role of the Desertification Secretariat in implementation of the associated projects. This was firmly objected to by the majority of the other groupings of delegates, including the majority of nations most extremely affected by desertification and land degradation. The main dissenters were the Group of 77 chaired by Indonesia, the Asia-Pacific group chaired by Haiti, and the African ministers of the environment group chaired by Egypt. With support from a large number of other nations, these groupings firmly opposed “any move to limit the secretariat’s role” in both the administration and implementation of the projects.

The division in discussions was also apparent when it came to agreeing on the practical manner in which the Convention would be financed. Developed countries made it clear that they wanted the mechanism to be merely an “inventory for funding needs and possibilities.” The majority of other countries were adamant that the Convention was in need of a real financial mechanism with its own resources. Halfway through the meeting, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) announced that it had approved a grant of US$10 million to help fight desertification. The IFAD coordinates funding for the implementation of the activities of the Desertification Convention. It also finances small and low cost rural projects and in addition pledged 40 per cent of its assistance to those regions covered by the Convention to Combat Desertification. “Modest resources” for the functioning of the global mechanism were pledged by Sweden, Portugal and Germany.

Participants adopted a number of decisions that are intended to accelerate efforts over the next two years.

Delegates from a round table of 21 countries issued a statement calling for immediate implementation of the Desertification Convention and the immediate availability of sufficient resources. The round table also called for the year 2000 to be the start of the Decade to Combat Desertification.

The Minister of Environment of Senegal, Souty Toure, who was acting as President at the Second Session commented that “by working together we can build a momentum for this Convention that demonstrates a convincing and binding political commitment to addressing the most pressing concerns of the people of the African continent and of all arid and semi-arid regions of the world.”

A number of formal decisions were adopted at the meeting.

A Committee on the Review of the Implementation of the Convention was established. The Committee, which will begin working within the next year, will consider national reports and other information contributed from the Parties, the Global Mechanism and the Secretariat.

An ad hoc panel was also established. The panel will compile and synthesize the most important and the most widely applied traditional knowledge about techniques for combating land degradation.

It was announced that the Third Conference of the Parties will be held in Recife, Brazil, in November 1999. A work programme for this meeting was adopted.

The Third Conference of the Parties will discuss the review of implementation reports from Africa and will consider the activities of the Global Mechanism in its responsibility for promoting financial support to developing countries. The meeting will also consider synergies and collaboration with other conventions as well as procedures and institutional mechanisms for resolving any questions on implementation, and arbitration and conciliation procedures.

It is intended that the Fourth Conference of the Parties be held in the year 2000. This session will review implementation reports from countries affected by desertification or dryland degradation other than Africa, in particular, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. Italy proposed, with strong support from many delegates, that there be an elaboration of a “Dakar Mandate” for consideration at the Fourth Conference of the Parties. This would result in a protocol containing more specific commitments.

In an informal summary of the Second Session, Executive Secretary Hama Diallo observed that “during this conference we have seen evidence that the Convention is beginning to have an impact on the ground and on the lives of people living in the drylands. The next two years will be vital for maintaining and building on this momentum and I look forward to the more detailed progress reports that we shall soon be receiving from governments.”

Finally, the meeting formally agreed to the Secretariat’s headquarters being relocated in Bonn, Germany, with effect from January 1999.

Further information

UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Geneva Executive Centre, 11/13 Chemin des Anémones, 1219 Châtelaine, Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: 41-22-9178030. Email: Web:

On the Web

Drylands and desertification


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