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INFORMATION SHARING SEGMENT

BENIN: Amb. Ren‚ Val‚ry Mongbe covered four areas: the state of desertification in Benin, its manifestation and consequences, commitments and experiences gained, and new elements of the strategy aimed at promoting sustainable development and attenuation of drought. He listed the physical, human and economic factors that contribute to the process of desertification. He stated that the agricultural production system contributes to desertification and he listed some of the outcomes of these processes as: deforestation; rural-urban migrations and exodus to more fertile lands; and a drop in animal and food production, among others. He also said that factories slowed down productivity due to lack of raw materials and that mass inputs of consumer goods and food stuffs have meant a lot in expenditure of the country's foreign currency leading to increased balance of payments deficits and deteriorating standards of living.

ALGERIA: Tewfik Abada, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave a summary of the Algerian national report on combatting drought and desertification. He stated that land degradation is due to irregularity of rainfall, lack of soils, and the breadth of the temperature range. Other causes include: overgrazing, growing population pressures, loss of tree cover, and salinization. He described the Green Dam programme that includes protection of existing vegetation, reforestation, development of pastoral and agricultural lands, dune fixation, and development of underground water. He stated that any plan of action should involve the following phases: take local resources into stock; evaluate ecosystems and periods of drought through observation stations; upgrade national, scientific and human resources; and increase the research potential.

In the general discussion of the African experience with desertification, Egypt pointed out that anti-desertification programmes are long-term and trans-national by nature and cannot afford the ups and downs of political relations. Norway asked for examples of the role of women in combatting desertification. Kallala Abdessalem of Tunisia responded that there are female advisers in the ministries to deal with environmental issues. Saudi Arabia asked about techniques for dune stabilization and the improvement of pastoral lands. Mustapha Tlili of the UMA mentioned that the Maghreb states have counted on their own financial resources to deal with desertification.

YEMEN: Mahmoud Shidiwah, Director of the Desertification Control Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, outlined the types and forms of desertification and strategies used at various levels. He then covered the objectives and national strategies used to combat desertification. He stated that with desertification comes poverty, hunger, migration, illiteracy, and the inability of people to meet their basic needs. He said that combatting desertification was seventh on list of their country's priorities in the development programme.

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

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

IRAQ: Dr. Fadhal Ali Al-Faraji, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, mentioned that his country is suffering from an increase in sandstorms, dune formation and salinization and that the government does not have sufficient equipment and facilities to address desertification. He mentioned that a considerable number of projects have been implemented to stabilize dunes and that 5 million salt-resistant shrubs have been planted.

In the discussion on Middle Eastern experiences with desertification, Jordan mentioned that population growth has led to increased pressure on the land and this gave rise to desertification. Some of Jordan's programmes include: development of pastoral land, tree planting, and soil research. Mali asked about the involvement of women in desertification control and what steps are taken to deal with the scourge of crickets and grasshoppers.

INDIA: Narain Singh, Inspector-General of Forests, outlined his country's efforts to combat desertification in three regions: Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. He outlined India's strategy that involves the regular monitoring of state forests, vegetation cover, water bodies, agriculture and other forms of land use. India has developed cheap technology for combatting desertification. The successful initiative covers: desertification, drought and irrigation.

IRAN: Mohammad Reza Djabbari stated that in spite of climatological changes, a number of human activities lead to desertification: population growth; the need for more agricultural production; overuse of wood and plants as fuel; and irregular use of water resources. Government policies to combat desertification include: using the media to increase public awareness; accelerating economic development to reduce pressures on land; land restoration and rehabilitation; industrial development; and increasing public participation in decision-making. Iran has also adopted a national plan 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 and technology would be useful in formulating the Convention. Norway asked how Indian NGOs were involved in the conception and implementation of activities. Singh responded that there are institutionalized mechanisms for NGO involvement in policy-making and that many of the government's plans to combat desertification are being formulated from the grassroots level.

CHINA: Prof. Zhu Zhenda, Director of the National Project of Fragile Ecosystems and Rehabilitation, stated that there are two types 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 three national conferences, established an institute to study the subject, and implemented numerous programmes to combat desertification in conjunction with local populations. As a result, about 12% of the desertified land has not expanded and 10% has been reclaimed.

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

TURKMENISTAN: Prof N. Kharin, Deputy Director of the Desert Institute, described the geography of the land-locked region of Central Asia. The new states in the region have inherited an ecological disaster from the former Soviet Union. During the span of one generation, 80% of the Aral Sea basin has become subject to desertification and the area of the sea itself has been reduced in half. Among the programmes underway in Turkmenistan are: supplying the population with water, electrical power and gas to substitute for fuelwood; requiring each of Turkmenistan's 4 million people to plant two saplings per year; and satellite monitoring and analysis of desertification trends.

In the discussion, Japan mentioned joint-research programmes currently underway with China and its aid programmes in Africa. The Sudan was interested in the socio-economic aspect of desertification in Central Asia. Saudi Arabia mentioned that tree planting is a costly effort, not only for supplying plants but for controlling their growth. Mali stated that Africa lacks the operational tools that Turkmenistan has, such as satellite systems and financing for tree planting. Zambia asked about techniques and mechanisms used in Central Asia that could be applied in other countries. Ghana was concerned about implementation of Turkmenistan's decree on tree planting. Israel mentioned that the main investment in tree planting is the research. Armenia expressed concern about irrigation once trees were planted. Mauritania added that the slides of Central Asia reminded him of the situation in his country and this was further proof that the phenomenon of desertification is a global one.

AUSTRALIA: Dr. Geoff Miller, Associate Secretary for Agriculture, explained that the Convention required long-term solutions to improve production and reduce dependence. He explained Australia's efforts and experiences in combatting desertification, pointing out that the partnership between the government and the people is important. He then explained in detail how Australia's Land Care programme and the merging of all natural resource-based agencies have revolutionalized the management of arid and semi-arid lands, but at high cost. He concluded that the programmes initiated must be based on the community's aspirations and that expert advice must be available but should not control people. The discussion on this presentation will take place on Friday.

CHILE: Samuel Franke Campa�a, Corporaci�n Nacional Forestal, described the geography, topography and climate of Chile, where 50% of the country is prone to desertification. Desertification is caused by over-grazing, mining, farming, logging, forest fires and severe water erosion. Recently Chile signed an agreement with UNEP to formulate a national anti-desertification plan. It is important to find coordination mechanisms embracing the public and private sectors, including: laws that are not over-stringent or over-indulgent; environmental education; and coordination among various institutions.

BRAZIL: Paulo Roberto Fran‡a, Division of Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the problem of desertification in the northeast 11% of Brazilian territory, where rainfall distribution patterns are irregular and the land has a low capacity for retaining water. Drought in the region has reduced food production, disrupted the rural life and economy, increased child mortality, malnutrition and chronic disease. He added that Brazil is devising an integrated programme to combat this problem but it is essential that drought and environmental degradation issues are incorporated into development policies.

Valdemar Rodrigues, Secretario Municipal de Medio Ambiente de Teresina, Piau�, made a presentation on the degradation of marginal lands in a semi-arid region in northeastern Brazil. He referred to a study carried out in 1991 that drew up a plan of action to alleviate the effects of drought. The causes of degradation were identified as: short-run regional development models based on a international economic environment; the misuse of natural resources; concentrated land tenure; and high population density.

MEXICO: Dr. Manuel Anaya Gardu�o, Director of Investigation and representative of the Department of Social Development of Mexico, spoke first of Mexico's international involvement in desertification control and the specific problems faced in that country. He cited Mexico's efforts in developing a Latin American handbook on soil conservation, based on Maya and Aztec technologies. He spoke of a drought-resistant Russian plant used successfully for cattle feed. He stressed the multi-disciplinary approach for research designs and community involvement.

ISRAEL: Prof. Uriel Safriel of the Institute for Desert Research of Ben-Gurion University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem presented Israel's experiences in preventing desertification and the conversion of semi-desert lands to Mediterranean landscape in areas that have 100-200 mm of rain. He invited all governments, including Israel's neighbors, to visit their research facilities.

During the discussion on the Latin American presentations, Zambia asked about sapling survival rates and Chile responded that they tested species viability over time. Australia questioned Brazil and Chile about their experiences with legal frameworks to deal with environmental problems. Fran‡a said it was important to remember that there are different enforcement mechanisms between national legislation and international agreements and that lack of resources and abject poverty often complicate enforcement at the national level. Israel responded to a question from Uganda by explaining the role of the fragile soil crust in moisture catchment. Benin asked Mexico about using indigenous technologies and was told that this was not under-development but combining modern methods with age-old experiences. Kjell‚n closed the session by noting that the day's tour of the world's experiences with desertification had provided ideas for cooperation between regions in tackling this global problem.

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