Experts seek ways to combat desertification

by Ramesh Jaura

Bonn, 21 Mar (IPS) -- Government officials and experts from more than 170 countries, supported by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), have gathered in Bonn, Germany, to assess the results of programmes to combat desertification worldwide.

Drought and desertification - resulting from global climate change and human activities - are threatening the livelihoods of more than 1.2 billion people in 110 countries.

This threat has lent significance to the deliberations, which are running from 19 March to 6 April, says Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Hama Arba Diallo.

The Convention - adopted nearly seven years ago - is a legally binding instrument resulting from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992.

It stresses the global dimension of desertification and calls for increased efforts towards the implementation of national, sub-regional and regional action programmes to combat desertification, and the promotion of sustainable development.

“Seven years is not a long period of time compared to the complexity of the UNCCD process and the magnitude of the tasks,” maintains Diallo.

“Nevertheless, one would be legitimately entitled to expect the concerned countries to have at least been able to put in place the required machinery for the launching of the priority activities whilst they pursue their NAP process.”

NAP is an acronym for National Action Programmes, which are the heart of the Convention and constitute the conceptual and legal framework for implementing it at the national and local levels.

Pursuing the NAP process means that practical measures necessary to combat desertification have been taken including policy and institutional measures, decentralisation, allocation of budgetary resources, and participation of relevant actors, especially local population.

“Of course, the most important action remains the effort to incorporate long-term strategies to combat desertification into the national policies for sustainable development,” says Diallo.

The activities conducted particularly by the affected countries - many of them in Africa - should be reviewed with the aim to enable the countries to address the shortcomings and to define ways and means required in order to fully implement the Convention, argues the UNCCD Executive Secretary.

The issue of resource mobilisation, therefore, remains a major challenge in the CCD process. This was acknowledged by the fourth Conference of Parties (COP4) last December in Bonn. COP4 adopted a declaration on the commitments to enhance the implementation of the Convention.

The conference launched a request to explore the best options for enhancing the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in assisting countries affected by desertification, especially in Africa, to implement the Convention.

The request reflects also the result of a key phase of the Conference:

the review of reports presented by the Parties. During the session, delegates had the possibility to review already 34 of the over 150 reports submitted between 1999 and 2000.

Countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Northern Mediterranean that have already adopted a National Action Programme to Combat Desertification, illustrated initiatives undertaken, successes accomplished and problems encountered.  Sub-regional and regional institutions also presented their respective reports.

“The review of reports represents a most important accomplishment of this Conference,” says Diallo, “as reports reflect the enormous efforts made by affected countries to combat desertification.”

“We were hoping however to see more commitment from the international community,” he says. “We have heard many positive statements, I believe that we have seen the expression of political good will, but we are now looking forward to seeing goodwill translate into concrete action.”

The aggregate funds required to combat desertification worldwide cannot be quantified, says Diallo.

But the fact is that countries such as Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Tunisia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Lesotho, Mauritania, Yemen. Syria, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Bolivia and Bolivia have prepared their National Action Programmes.

“In order to put the programmes into action, they need funds,” says Diallo.

Some 250 participants are attending the Bonn deliberations - known as the Ad Hoc Working Group in UN jargon. Diallo has called upon them “to consider what inputs will be needed to allow the Conference of Parties at its fifth session to take a decision on the best direction regarding the review process of the future reports on implementation of the Convention.”

COP5 is scheduled to take place in Bonn in September.

The previous COP approved a declaration of commitments to enhance special efforts to combat and prevent desertification and/or mitigate the effects of drought between 2001-2010, in order to address the severe situation prevailing in various affected developing countries, particularly in Africa.

They expressed concern that, despite important efforts made by all interested partners, adequate financial and other resources have not yet been mobilised, thus constraining the ability of affected developing countries to fulfill their commitments under the Convention.

They urged all actors to take a set of proactive financial measures, and indicated strategic areas for action at all levels.

These include development of new and renewable energy sources; sustainable land use management, sustainable use and management of rangelands; development of sustainable agricultural and ranching production systems; launching of reforestation/afforestation programmes and intensification of soil conservation programmes.

The conference also urged the development of early warning systems for food security and drought forecasting.