Press Releases

SG/SM/8266
ENV/DEV/661
OBV/277
11 June 2002

Anti-Desertification Convention Key Element in Quest for Sustainable Development, Says Secretary-General on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

NEW YORK, 10 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which is observed 17 June:

Desertification and drought pose a worldwide threat with serious economic, environmental and socio-political implications.

Every year, an estimated $42 billion in income and 6 million hectares of productive land are being lost because of desertification, land degradation and declining agricultural productivity, and 135 million people who depend primarily on land for their livelihood are at risk of being displaced.

The fallout is felt on all continents. In Africa, over the next 20 years some 60 million people are expected to move from the Sahelian region to less hostile areas if the desertification of their land is not halted. In north-east Asia, dust and sandstorms have buried human settlements and forced schools and airports to shut down. In the Americas, dry spells and sandstorms have alarmed farmers and raised the spectre of another "Dust Bowl", reminiscent of the 1930s. And in southern Europe, lands once green and rich in vegetation are turning barren and brown.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted eight years ago today, integrates environmental and developmental concerns and thus is a key instrument not only in protecting ecosystems and resources, but also in alleviating poverty. However, a lack of predictable financial resources has hampered implementation. I urge developed countries to follow through on the commitments they made both in adopting the Convention and at the "Earth Summit" 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro -- including the provision of financial support through the Global Environment Facility (an alliance of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Bank), which should serve as a financial mechanism of the Convention.

Desertification will be among the most important issues to be discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in less than three months. We need to find ways to halt land degradation, and to manage land more responsibly. We need to reverse the decline in agricultural productivity, especially in Africa, so that food production keeps pace with the number of mouths to feed. We need, in short, to implement the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification as a key element in the world's quest for sustainable development.

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