Daily report for 27 May 1993

1st Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the International Convention to Combat Desertification

Two members of the working group bureaus were elected on Thursday morning. Jacques Alliot, the director-general of the CaisseFran‡aise de D‚veloppement in France was nominated by the WesternEuropean and Others Group as the Chair of Working Group II. ErwinOrtiz-Gandanillas, Minister Counsellor of Bolivia to the UnitedNations was nominated as one of the Vice-Chairs of Working Group I.The Chair, Bo Kjell‚n, announced that consultations will continuein the Eastern European Group to nominate a Vice-Chair for thefinal working group bureau post.


Two members of the working group bureaus were elected on Thursdaymorning. Jacques Alliot, the director-general of the CaisseFran‡aise de D‚veloppement in France was nominated by the WesternEuropean and Others Group as the Chair of Working Group II. ErwinOrtiz-Gandanillas, Minister Counsellor of Bolivia to the UnitedNations was nominated as one of the Vice-Chairs of Working Group I.The Chair, Bo Kjell‚n, announced that consultations will continuein the Eastern European Group to nominate a Vice-Chair for thefinal working group bureau post.


BENIN: Amb. Ren‚ Val‚ry Mongbe covered four areas: the stateof desertification in Benin, its manifestation and consequences,commitments and experiences gained, and new elements of thestrategy aimed at promoting sustainable development and attenuationof drought. He listed the physical, human and economic factors thatcontribute to the process of desertification. He stated that theagricultural production system contributes to desertification andhe listed some of the outcomes of these processes as:deforestation; rural-urban migrations and exodus to more fertilelands; and a drop in animal and food production, among others. Healso said that factories slowed down productivity due to lack ofraw materials and that mass inputs of consumer goods and foodstuffs have meant a lot in expenditure of the country's foreigncurrency leading to increased balance of payments deficits anddeteriorating standards of living.

ALGERIA: Tewfik Abada, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,gave a summary of the Algerian national report on combattingdrought and desertification. He stated that land degradation is dueto irregularity of rainfall, lack of soils, and the breadth of thetemperature range. Other causes include: overgrazing, growingpopulation pressures, loss of tree cover, and salinization. Hedescribed the Green Dam programme that includes protection ofexisting vegetation, reforestation, development of pastoral andagricultural lands, dune fixation, and development of undergroundwater. He stated that any plan of action should involve thefollowing phases: take local resources into stock; evaluateecosystems and periods of drought through observation stations;upgrade national, scientific and human resources; and increase theresearch potential.

In the general discussion of the African experience withdesertification, Egypt pointed out that anti-desertificationprogrammes are long-term and trans-national by nature and cannotafford the ups and downs of political relations. Norway asked forexamples of the role of women in combatting desertification.Kallala Abdessalem of Tunisia responded that there are femaleadvisers in the ministries to deal with environmental issues. SaudiArabia asked about techniques for dune stabilization and theimprovement of pastoral lands. Mustapha Tlili of the UMA mentionedthat the Maghreb states have counted on their own financialresources to deal with desertification.

YEMEN: Mahmoud Shidiwah, Director of the DesertificationControl Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, outlined thetypes and forms of desertification and strategies used at variouslevels. He then covered the objectives and national strategies usedto combat desertification. He stated that with desertificationcomes poverty, hunger, migration, illiteracy, and the inability ofpeople to meet their basic needs. He said that combattingdesertification was seventh on list of their country's prioritiesin the development programme.

Asma Mubarak, Counselor of Foreign Affairs from Yemen, outlined thegovernment's 20-year policy to combat desertification, whichstarted in 1991. She said that combating desertification meansincreasing plant and animal produce and ensuring long-term ruraldevelopment. She stressed the need to take into account all social,economic and technical issues in programme planning.

SAUDI ARABIA: The delegate from Saudi Arabia summarizedefforts to combat desertification in his country, including:providing data on flora and fauna; enacting legislation on pastorallands; protecting forest regions; planting seedlings; facilitatingwater distribution; implementing dune stabilization projects;replanting pastoral lands; and creating national parks.

IRAQ: Dr. Fadhal Ali Al-Faraji, of the Ministry ofAgriculture and Irrigation, mentioned that his country is sufferingfrom an increase in sandstorms, dune formation and salinization andthat the government does not have sufficient equipment andfacilities to address desertification. He mentioned that aconsiderable number of projects have been implemented to stabilizedunes and that 5 million salt-resistant shrubs have been planted.

In the discussion on Middle Eastern experiences withdesertification, Jordan mentioned that population growth has led toincreased pressure on the land and this gave rise todesertification. Some of Jordan's programmes include: developmentof pastoral land, tree planting, and soil research. Mali askedabout the involvement of women in desertification control and whatsteps are taken to deal with the scourge of crickets andgrasshoppers.

INDIA: Narain Singh, Inspector-General of Forests, outlinedhis country's efforts to combat desertification in three regions:Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. He outlined India's strategy thatinvolves the regular monitoring of state forests, vegetation cover,water bodies, agriculture and other forms of land use. India hasdeveloped cheap technology for combatting desertification. Thesuccessful initiative covers: desertification, drought andirrigation.

IRAN: Mohammad Reza Djabbari stated that in spite ofclimatological changes, a number of human activities lead todesertification: population growth; the need for more agriculturalproduction; overuse of wood and plants as fuel; and irregular useof water resources. Government policies to combat desertificationinclude: using the media to increase public awareness; acceleratingeconomic development to reduce pressures on land; land restorationand rehabilitation; industrial development; and increasing publicparticipation in decision-making. Iran has also adopted a nationalplan of action to reclaim and restore degraded land.

In the discussion on South Asia's experience with desertification,the Chair said the experience from India with modern techniques andtechnology would be useful in formulating the Convention.Norway asked how Indian NGOs were involved in the conceptionand implementation of activities. Singh responded that there areinstitutionalized mechanisms for NGO involvement in policy-makingand that many of the government's plans to combat desertificationare being formulated from the grassroots level.

CHINA: Prof. Zhu Zhenda, Director of the National Project ofFragile Ecosystems and Rehabilitation, stated that there are twotypes of land degradation in China: wind erosion and water erosion.Since the 1977 UN Conference on Desertification, China has:conducted extensive research on desertification; convened threenational conferences, established an institute to study thesubject, and implemented numerous programmes to combatdesertification in conjunction with local populations. As a result,about 12% of the desertified land has not expanded and 10% has beenreclaimed.

MONGOLIA: Dr. Tsohiogyn Adyasuren, Director GeneralEnvironment Science, Monitoring and International Cooperation inthe Ministry for Nature and Environment, stated that 75% ofMongolia's land is covered with the Gobi Desert. Overgrazing is oneof the primary causes of desertification since shrubs are used forfodder by livestock during the dry season. Precipitation is lessthan 100mm per year and appears to be decreasing in desert areas.The government is working with UNEP to draw up a national actionplan to combat desertification. However, he added, implementationwill be difficult due to economic problems.

TURKMENISTAN: Prof N. Kharin, Deputy Director of the DesertInstitute, described the geography of the land-locked region ofCentral Asia. The new states in the region have inherited anecological disaster from the former Soviet Union. During the spanof one generation, 80% of the Aral Sea basin has become subject todesertification and the area of the sea itself has been reduced inhalf. Among the programmes underway in Turkmenistan are: supplyingthe population with water, electrical power and gas to substitutefor fuelwood; requiring each of Turkmenistan's 4 million people toplant two saplings per year; and satellite monitoring and analysisof desertification trends.

In the discussion, Japan mentioned joint-research programmescurrently underway with China and its aid programmes in Africa. TheSudan was interested in the socio-economic aspect ofdesertification in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia mentioned that treeplanting is a costly effort, not only for supplying plants but forcontrolling their growth. Mali stated that Africa lacks theoperational tools that Turkmenistan has, such as satellite systemsand financing for tree planting. Zambia asked about techniques andmechanisms used in Central Asia that could be applied in othercountries. Ghana was concerned about implementation ofTurkmenistan's decree on tree planting. Israel mentioned that themain investment in tree planting is the research. Armenia expressedconcern about irrigation once trees were planted. Mauritania addedthat the slides of Central Asia reminded him of the situation inhis country and this was further proof that the phenomenon ofdesertification is a global one.

AUSTRALIA: Dr. Geoff Miller, Associate Secretary forAgriculture, explained that the Convention required long-termsolutions to improve production and reduce dependence. He explainedAustralia's efforts and experiences in combatting desertification,pointing out that the partnership between the government and thepeople is important. He then explained in detail how Australia'sLand Care programme and the merging of all natural resource-basedagencies have revolutionalized the management of arid and semi-aridlands, but at high cost. He concluded that the programmes initiatedmust be based on the community's aspirations and that expert advicemust be available but should not control people. The discussion onthis presentation will take place on Friday.

CHILE: Samuel Franke Campaa, Corporacin Nacional Forestal,described the geography, topography and climate of Chile, where 50%of the country is prone to desertification. Desertification iscaused by over-grazing, mining, farming, logging, forest fires andsevere water erosion. Recently Chile signed an agreement with UNEPto formulate a national anti-desertification plan. It is importantto find coordination mechanisms embracing the public and privatesectors, including: laws that are not over-stringent orover-indulgent; environmental education; and coordination amongvarious institutions.

BRAZIL: Paulo Roberto Fran‡a, Division of Environment,Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the problem ofdesertification in the northeast 11% of Brazilian territory, whererainfall distribution patterns are irregular and the land has a lowcapacity for retaining water. Drought in the region has reducedfood production, disrupted the rural life and economy, increasedchild mortality, malnutrition and chronic disease. He added thatBrazil is devising an integrated programme to combat this problembut it is essential that drought and environmental degradationissues are incorporated into development policies.

Valdemar Rodrigues, Secretario Municipal de Medio Ambiente deTeresina, Piau, made a presentation on the degradation of marginallands in a semi-arid region in northeastern Brazil. He referred toa study carried out in 1991 that drew up a plan of action toalleviate the effects of drought. The causes of degradation wereidentified as: short-run regional development models based on ainternational economic environment; the misuse of naturalresources; concentrated land tenure; and high population density.

MEXICO: Dr. Manuel Anaya Garduo, Director of Investigationand representative of the Department of Social Development ofMexico, spoke first of Mexico's international involvement indesertification control and the specific problems faced in thatcountry. He cited Mexico's efforts in developing a Latin Americanhandbook on soil conservation, based on Maya and Aztectechnologies. He spoke of a drought-resistant Russian plant usedsuccessfully for cattle feed. He stressed the multi-disciplinaryapproach for research designs and community involvement.

ISRAEL: Prof. Uriel Safriel of the Institute for DesertResearch of Ben-Gurion University and the Hebrew University ofJerusalem presented Israel's experiences in preventingdesertification and the conversion of semi-desert lands toMediterranean landscape in areas that have 100-200 mm of rain. Heinvited all governments, including Israel's neighbors, to visittheir research facilities.

During the discussion on the Latin American presentations, Zambiaasked about sapling survival rates and Chile responded that theytested species viability over time. Australia questioned Brazil andChile about their experiences with legal frameworks to deal withenvironmental problems. Fran‡a said it was important to rememberthat there are different enforcement mechanisms between nationallegislation and international agreements and that lack of resourcesand abject poverty often complicate enforcement at the nationallevel. Israel responded to a question from Uganda by explaining therole of the fragile soil crust in moisture catchment. Benin askedMexico about using indigenous technologies and was told that thiswas not under-development but combining modern methods with age-oldexperiences. Kjell‚n closed the session by noting that the day'stour of the world's experiences with desertification had providedideas for cooperation between regions in tackling this globalproblem.


PLENARY: The information sharing segment will continue todaywith the experiences of developed countries. Dr. Jos‚ L. RubioDelgado, Director of the Department of Desertification at theConsejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas of Spain will bethe first speaker. Paul Blakeburn, Director of the Office ofEcology, Health and Conservation at the US Department of State willthen speak on US experiences.

The last section of the information segment is "Some possibleelements of a new strategy to promote sustainable development incountries experiencing drought and desertification". Gary Howe,Project Controller, Africa Division of IFAD, will present onintegrated community driven approaches. Franklin G. Cardy, Directorof the Desertification Control PAC at UNEP, will speak on newdirections in systematic information collection and analysis. PeterVeit, of the World Resources Institute, will speak on promisingtechnologies to reverse land degradation and Tijan Jallon,Technical Adviser at UNSO, will talk on experimentation andinnovations in capacity building. The last scheduled speaker willbe Youba Sokona of ENDA-TM who will discuss alternative energysystems.