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GENERAL ASSEMBLY HIGHLIGHTS

The 50th United Nations General Assembly began its consideration of Agenda Item 96(a), "Environment and Sustainable Development: Implementation of Decisions and Recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development," on Monday, 30 October 1995. In connection with this item, the General Assembly had before it a number of documents, including the report of the Secretary-General on desertification and drought (A/50/347), and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the reports of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification (INCD) on its sixth and seventh sessions (A/50/74 and Add.1).

Since the debate on desertification and drought was part of the overall debate on UNCED follow-up, not all delegates addressed the Convention in their statements. Those delegates who did address this item expressed their support for the Convention and called for its early ratification and entry into force. Many expressed concern about the lack of contributions to the special funds.

In his introduction, the Executive Secretary of the Interim Secretariat for the CCD, Arba Diallo, elaborated on the work of the Secretariat in disseminating information about the Convention, including the preparation of kits in all UN languages that contain the text of the Convention, the text of a simplified version of the Convention and information on specific themes contained in the Convention. In addition to describing the results of INCD-7, Diallo noted that Germany, Spain, Kenya and Switzerland have all expressed interest in hosting the Permanent Secretariat. He expressed concern about the financial situation of the special funds and urged governments to contribute to these funds.

INCD Chair Amb. Bo Kjell�n applauded the increasingly broad support from the international community for the Convention to Combat Desertification, as evidenced by the addition of 28 signatories to the Convention in the past year, and the large number of countries that have expeditiously initiated the ratification process. He predicted that the Convention would enter into force in the coming year and the first Conference of Parties would take place in 1997. He noted that substantive progress is being made in INCD meetings regarding negotiation of the rules of procedure and financial rules, and in regard to the question of the Global Mechanism. Both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have expressed interest in housing the Mechanism. Of major concern is the lack of financial contributions to the Trust Fund and the Voluntary Fund. He noted that this Convention marks a transition in international environmental negotiations to one that truly embodies the UNCED spirit of cooperation between developed and developing countries, and the meaningful and substantive participation of NGOs and local communities, particularly women.

OFFICE TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION AND DROUGHT (UNSO): Samuel Nyambi stressed the importance of international action to implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, and stated that current levels of financing and activities are insufficient to stem, let alone reverse, the trend of land degradation in affected regions. US$4 million has thus far been contributed to support initiation of the national action programme process, subregional activities and capacity-building. An important aspect of the work to combat desertification is the building of effective partnerships, such as the UNEP-UNDP Partnership to Combat Desertification, and the collaboration of OECD/Club du Sahel with UNDP/UNSO to facilitate information exchange among organizations supporting implementation of the Resolution on Urgent Action for Africa. He announced that arrangements have been made to create the new UNSO, which will be the central UNDP entity for work on desertification and drought, and which will henceforth be called the Office to Combat Desertification and Drought.

PHILIPPINES: Heherson Alvarez, on behalf of the G-77 and China, called for early signing and ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification.

SPAIN: Miguel Aguirre de C�rcer, on behalf of the EU, supported the early entry into force of the Convention.

ECUADOR: On behalf of the Rio Group (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela), Marjorie Ulloa noted that millions of people in Latin America are affected by desertification and drought. The Rio Group intends to convene a regional governmental meeting to support the study of the problems of desertification and drought in the region and the implementation of the Convention, particularly the Latin American Annex.

ISRAEL: Amb. Israel Eliashiv noted that Israel has initiated projects to implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, such as the establishment of an International Center for Combating Desertification at Ben Gurion University in the Negev Desert. Israel also hosted a symposium (co-sponsored with Japan, UNDP, and the International Arid Lands Consortium) on Sustainable Water Management in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions from 15-19 May 1995. He called for international support for the International Programme for Arid Land Crops (IPALAC). Ben Gurion University supports this programme through activities such as a Specialists Course in Plant Introduction Adaptation and Development, with emphasis on Germplasm for Arid Zones, to be held in Israel in March 1996. He emphasized the importance of both human resources development and regional level cooperation (such as the Middle East Subregional Joint Project, launched in August 1995) in combating desertification.

BENIN: Rogatien Biaou announced that Benin will be ratifying the Convention in the coming weeks. Benin has established a technical committee, composed of representatives of all of the relevant ministries and NGOs, to implement the Convention. The committee began its work in May 1995 and is charged with the elaboration of a national action plan.

REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Ha-Yong Moon announced that the Republic of Korea is expected to ratify the Convention early in 1996.

NIGERIA: Amb. Isaac E. Ayewah said that priority in combating desertification should be given to implementing preventive measures for vulnerable lands that are not yet degraded. He commended the INCD on its success in raising international awareness of the problems of desertification and drought. A progressive and important aspect of the Convention to Combat Desertification is its emphasis on regional implementation. However, implementation of this Convention, and other activities pursuant to Agenda 21, are threatened by the recent decline in multilateral financial contributions.

IRAN: Mohammad Jabbary stated that the provision of substantial financial resources and other forms of support for countries affected by the problems of desertification, particularly in Africa, is essential to carrying out the implementation of the Convention. A Programme Office for the Regional Network of Research and Training on Desertification Control has been established in Tehran.

LESOTHO: Ntai Makoetje stated on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that an early entry into force of the Convention to Combat Desertification is of vital importance, and considerable strides have been made toward its ratification. SADC Member States are working on the national and subregional levels to coordinate approaches to the problems of desertification and drought by undertaking policy reviews and improvements, conducting a case study, and convening a series of workshops in preparation for the development of a subregional action programme. In March 1995, a subregional workshop on implementation of urgent measures for Africa was held in Pretoria, South Africa, and another workshop is planned in Windhoek, Namibia, in January 1996. Without adequate financial, technological and institutional capacities, the implementation of these measures and policies will be constrained.

KENYA: Prof. Sam Ongeri announced that the process of ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification is well underway in Kenya, and an advisory national committee on desertification and drought has been established to facilitate implementation of the Convention. He expressed the opinion that the creation of a financial mechanism for this Convention is essential to its future success.

TUNISIA: Abderrazak Azaiez stressed the problem of desertification in Tunisia and reaffirmed the need for the rapid entry into force of the Convention. He described Tunisia's activities with regard to sustainable water development, renewable energy and safeguarding the natural environment.

SUDAN: Amb. Hamid Ali Mohamed Eltinay announced that the Sudan has ratified the Convention.

ETHIOPIA: Berhanu Kebede said that efforts must be made to resolve the issue of allocation of adequate financial resources and development of operational mechanisms to channel those resources to affected populations in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

BURKINA FASO: Paul Robert Tiendrebeogo said that fighting desertification is a priority in Burkina Faso. Training and consciousness-raising efforts are valuable tools in combating desertification. His government has shown its commitment through a programme that involves a grassroots network and is called "8000 towns, 8000 forests." He appealed to the international community to increase financial resources to organizations involved in combating desertification.

UGANDA: Odyek Agona said there is an urgent need for an understanding of desertification, and that it must be tackled in an integrated fashion. The lukewarm response of the intergovernmental and multilateral processes to the anti-desertification and drought crusade is regrettable. While the collaborative leadership role of UNEP and UNDP and the contribution of other agencies is welcomed and appreciated, it falls short, given the magnitude of the problem.

PERU: Italo Acha encouraged States to ratify and implement the Convention. He stressed that in addition to Africa, Asia and Latin America also suffer from desertification and drought. He described how agricultural development in Peru is severely hindered by desertification and drought. He called on the donor community to guarantee the flow of financial resources and increase cooperation to support national, subregional and regional programmes of action to combat desertification. He noted that it is important that the INCD continue to meet to facilitate the transfer and development of science and technology as well as the implementation of the Convention.

CANADA: Amb. John A. Fraser reported that Canada has contributed C$18 million to Solidarite-Canada-Sahel (SCS), the North American NGO focus group for desertification. SCS has launched a public awareness campaign and works with NGOs in the Sahel to develop National Action Programmes to combat desertification. In addition, a Desertification Convention Office has been established in Canada to coordinate Canadian activities and programmes to combat desertification.

MYANMAR: U Zaw Wynn said that Myanmar has taken action to combat land degradation through afforestation and reforestation projects in nine districts of the dry zone. Other activities include financial support for developing countries and strengthening integrated development programmes in areas vulnerable to land degradation, to eradicate poverty and promote alternative livelihood systems.

ALGERIA: Mourad Ahmia pointed out that desertification affects more than 40 African countries. He urged countries to fulfill the promises of the Convention and international support for the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa. The establishment of the global financial mechanism called for in Article 21 of the Convention is one of the most important actions in the fight against desertification. At a meeting of countries in the Sahelian-Saharan region held in Algiers from 23-24 August 1995, governments stressed the importance of subregional cooperation to confront the problems of desertification.

IFAD: Vera P. Weill-Hall� said that IFAD expects to provide US$150-200 million annually to assist the poor in dryland areas to implement conservation strategies. IFAD believes that the Global Mechanism must not only serve as a clearinghouse, but must actively solicit funding for implementing the Convention. IFAD is willing and able to host the Global Mechanism in this capacity. IFAD considers lack of awareness to be the greatest obstacle to the Convention's implementation, so it is contributing to the preparation of a simplified version of the Convention. IFAD has earmarked funds to assist in the Secretariat's work on National Awareness Days in Africa, and has launched a pilot Technical Assistance Grants Programme for Assistance to African Countries in Implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification. In cooperation with the Interim Secretariat and others, IFAD will host a forum in June 1996 on participatory local development programmes.

EGYPT: Abdel-Ghafar Eldeeb welcomed the conclusions of the seventh session of the INCD. He attached special importance to the issue of water resources and noted that Egypt is implementing several programmes in this regard.

MALI: Sekou Almamy Koreissi noted that Mali ratified the Convention in February 1995. The international community must continue its support by replenishing the special trust fund and the voluntary fund. Responsibility for combating desertification lies with the affected countries and, to this end, Mali has joined efforts with eight other countries.

NIGER: Suzanne Maikarfi said that the Convention to Combat Desertification has given strength to Niger's policies to fight desertification. The consistent basis of these policies is to ensure food security. She expressed concern over the lack of voluntary contributions to finance the Convention.

UNITED STATES: Bisa Williams-Manigault reported that the US Government is proceeding to submit the Convention to Combat Desertification to the Senate for ratification. USAID missions in Africa are providing support for the resolution on Urgent Action for Africa.

MALAYSIA: Amb. V. Yoogalingam announced that Malaysia signed the International Convention to Combat Desertification on 6 October 1995. Malaysia has also made a US$10,000 contribution to the Convention's implementation.

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