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AWARENESS BUILDING

The Chair then invited delegates to discuss public awareness building and to make proposals on what can be done during World Day to Combat Desertification (17 June). He listed some of the main factors that are vital for awareness building: 1) to make the bottom-up approach fully workable where local populations are informed and consulted; 2) to make local authorities aware of the Convention; and 3) to give the Convention equal status to the Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions.

The PHILIPPINES, speaking on behalf of the G-77 and China, stressed that the Secretariat and the Committee should inform others in the UN system about the work to combat desertification. The Secretariat should also work to increase media interest.

INDIA described innovative forms of awareness building that it has undertaken: sharing knowledge between different groups within the country; enabling people to understand that science, technology and their lifestyles can be changed; and establishing education centres to develop school books, among other things.

GHANA noted the lack of awareness on the Convention, even at the governmental level. Simplified materials on the Convention should be generated to cover issues such as a definition of the concepts, as well as what action can be taken, where solutions can be sought, and how preventive measures can be taken, while drawing the necessary attention to any repercussions that could arise.

AUSTRALIA wanted the Committee to consider three questions: what information should be provided; to whom; and by whom. He noted that if the Secretariat assumed a facilitative, rather than an operational, role, it could help other organizations carry out their work and increase cost effectiveness.

The RUSSIAN FEDERATION described its work on public awareness, announcing that two international seminars on the Caspian Sea were held in Volgograd and Moscow, the latter supported by UNEP.

FRANCE, on behalf of the EU, stressed that the Convention gives the Secretariat an important role in raising awareness. However, this does not mean that the Secretariat should take the place of local facilities and initiatives.

CHINA thought it essential to guarantee financial resources and mobilize local populations. In China, the Convention has been published in Chinese and a Plan of Action has been drafted. There are plans to publish a brochure, hold an exhibition and convene national conferences with representatives from all levels of society and the media. Resources are needed for all of these activities.

IRAN highlighted the activities that his country had undertaken including: the establishment of 12 centres and three university faculties to address desertification and dune fixation; the production and distribution of films, brochures and books around the country; and the establishment of a non-governmental organization, JFI " the Green Front of Iran " comprising over 10,000 university students. He requested the Interim Secretariat (IS) to provide financial support for a JFI representative to attend future INCD sessions.

ALGERIA stated that evidence from the conventions on the ozone layer and biological diversity shows that the IS has an important role to play in information dissemination, through information bulletins and quarterly publications that cover activities initiated in affected developing countries and assistance provided by their partners. The first issue should be available at INCD-7. The IS should mobilize the necessary resources for this and set up an information office. Awareness raising should take place in both developed and developing countries, but in close collaboration with the IS, at three levels: in affected countries; in developed countries, targeting NGOs, parliamentarians and decision-makers; and in the UN system, especially the relevant agencies such as the GEF, UNEP"s Governing Board and the CSD. The IS should undertake measures to implement the resolution by the G-77 and China, which was adopted by the 49th General Assembly, to observe World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June. In honor of this event, the Secretary-General could issue a communiqu‚ or a global meeting of NGOs could be held. A report on this should be presented at INCD-7.

UNEP's Franklin Cardy stated that his agency has had the responsibility of raising awareness on environmental issues. Now that the Convention has been concluded, it is important to raise public awareness. The objectives would be to: 1) raise awareness of desertification worldwide to the level of other global issues, such as climate change; 2) improve the scientific respectability of desertification; and 3) create an information bank. There is also a need to identify the audiences. In order to tackle this range of tasks, a partnership of interested countries and organizations should be built. It could include DPI, TVE, SMI, a publisher, advertising agencies, UNEP, the INCD Secretariat and other UN organizations, donors, and NGOs, especially RIOD, ELCI, ENDA, and large NGOs such as Action Aid and Oxfam. A flexible multi-level partnership is needed with a consistent approach at the global level. UNEP is seeking partners for this purpose.

UZBEKISTAN<D> reported that this is the first Convention in which the new and independent States, such as his, have been involved since the beginning. It is therefore important to consider how the political leaders of such States can be informed about the contents of the Convention. This is why centralized information from the Secretariat is needed. In May, Uzbekistan is planning to hold a conference on the problems of the Aral Sea.

LEBANON has started an intensive media campaign using various forms of visual media and initiated youth projects, including a reforestation campaign.

MOROCCO concurred with Algeria and urged that the distribution of the proposed documentation should coincide with the 17 June ceremony. He called for an integrated approach to awareness campaigns by involving collectives.

MAURITANIA emphasized the lack of awareness about the Convention especially among international agencies that are potential partners. He called for the mobilization of press agencies in the developed countries.

BOLIVIA supported Algeria and the Philippines. He noted the critical role of the IS in raising awareness at the international level and among financial institutions, sub-regional and regional agencies, as well as providing support for national and local initiatives. The IS should present a programme of work on these activities at the next session of the INCD. It is crucial that such information should include the available means of implementation, in order not to create expectations that cannot be met.

MALI noted that the most affected countries lack the means to communicate and suggested the use of decentralized structures. He supported commemorating World Day to Combat Desertification and proposed that the INCD make recommendations for this.

The GAMBIA outlined activities it has undertaken and is planning. Special task forces have been created to collect and disseminate information through which local communities, NGOs and IGOs can have input. A multi-disciplinary forum is also planned with the twin aims of providing feedback to the decision-makers and implementors on the views of the communities and preparing projects for implementation.

KENYA supported the statements by the Philippines, India, Ghana, Algeria, UNEP and Mauritania. He also supported Algeria's proposal to convene a global forum of NGOs, possibly in Nairobi. NGOs are an important interface between local communities and the government. He also supported the idea of awarding a desertification prize. A cornerstone of public awareness and a precondition for meaningful implementation of this Convention is participation. It should be ensured that local populations know what is being done. A workshop was held on 15-17 August 1994, at which the Government, NGOs and academia participated. The Kenyan Government has also approached UNDP, UNEP and UNSO for assistance in hosting a conference with the stakeholders.

A representative of the NGO community, Edit Tuboly, gave examples of NGO public awareness activities. It is important to raise awareness among donor countries, in order to give inspiration to international solidarity, rather than reacting with pity for people in the drylands. The NGO network, RIOD, will help raise public awareness. It is important to get started with fundraising for research, production of desertification kits, capacity-building, workshops and exchanges between Northern and Southern NGOs, and establishing links with other UN conventions.

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