Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 40, Fall/Winter 1996
The CCD, Part I: Africa and the Mediterranean

The Convention to Combat Desertification: Actions to date in Africa and the Mediterranean

by the staff of the Interim Secretariat for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

"I am delighted to confirm that the efforts of the international community are bearing fruit so that now the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification can begin."

--Boutros Boutros-Ghali, U.N. Secretary General on the occasion of the 50th ratification of the CCD

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Background On Desertification

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According to the United Nations some 70 per cent of the 5.2 billion hectares of drylands used for agriculture around the world are already degraded. Thus, desertification now affects almost 30 per cent of the earth's total land area. The problem is most urgent in the developing nations of Africa. However, desertification is not just a problem for developing countries: the continent with the highest proportion of severely or moderately degraded drylands is North America. Five European countries also suffer from desertification, as do several members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In all, more than 110 countries have drylands potentially at risk.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that desertification costs the world $42 billion a year. The human cost is even higher. The livelihoods of more than a billion people are now at risk, and over 135 million people may be in danger of being driven from their land because of the effects of desertification and drought.

The Convention to Combat Desertification

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The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification In Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought And/Or Desertification, Particularly In Africa (CCD) was signed in 1994 by 114 countries and the European Union.

The CCD received its 50th instrument of ratification from Chad on 27 September 1996. This started the 90-day countdown for the treaty's entry into force, which will take place on 26 December 1996. The Convention will then become international law for all the countries, known as Parties, that have ratified or acceded to it (an accession being an instrument of ratification deposited by a country which has not signed the Convention). Its upcoming entry into force was announced by UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, on the occasion of the 50th ratification: "The challenge of combating desertification is of such a magnitude, both in time and space, that needed action goes well beyond what individual governments can do. The situation is especially dramatic in Africa, but interim action is needed in many other regions. Furthermore, countries which are not directly hit by this phenomenon bear some of its consequences, for desertification contributes to food insecurity, economic hardship and political unrest, which in turn lead to population movements that do not stop within national boundaries."

In praising the innovative approach promoted by the CCD, the UN Secretary-General specifically drew attention to its links between environment and development, as well as the importance given to the full participation of all stakeholders involved -- starting with all local communities and authorities and extending to scientific institutions, non-governmental organizations, national governments, and international partners, both bilateral and multilateral.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali added: "The Convention is one tangible follow-up of the Rio Summit on environment and development. It contains the principles and tools to put into operation the concept of sustainable development. It seeks to combine the alleviation of poverty with the restoration of the agro-ecological balance, thus creating a potential for direct and early benefits to the people living in the world's drylands." He then concluded: "I am delighted to confirm that the efforts of the international community are bearing fruit so that now the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification can begin."

The same optimism was expressed by Ambassador Bo Kjellen, during the 9th session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on a Convention to Combat Desertification (INCD-9, 3 - 13 September 1996), which he chairs: "In reviewing events and the action taken in various parts of the world, I feel encouraged. The observation of the World Day to Combat Desertification also inspires optimism: our Convention has led to an upsurge in interest in the drylands, their problems and the possible solutions, and non-governmental organizations have made a major contribution."

Interim Actions to Implement the CCD in the African Region

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Given the gravity of the problems of desertification in Africa, a Resolution on urgent action for Africa was passed on June 17, 1994, along with the Convention to Combat Desertification and INCD resolutions stressing the need for interim action also in other regions. This made it possible to start urgent interim actions immediately, without waiting for ratification of the CCD. Mr. Hama Arba Diallo, Executive Secretary of the Interim Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification, stated: "We can say today that many significant initiatives have been taken and the path cleared to prepare the Convention's implementation in the region."

These initiatives have taken place at local, national, subregional and regional levels. The most important ones include national awareness seminars (NAS's). To date, they have taken place in nearly all African countries affected by desertification.

An NAS represents the first stage of the process of implementation of the CCD, when the need for awareness raising is crucial. The primary purpose of an NAS is to sensitize key decision makers and stakeholders in affected countries, beyond the small group of officials and NGOs involved in the INCD negotiations, to the operational implications of the CCD. Usually a two-day event, they bring together non-governmental and community-based organizations, national policy makers, bilateral and multilateral donors, UN agencies and other intergovernmental institutions. They are held with the assistance of the CCD Secretariat and have generally enjoyed high attendance.

The NAS's held in Africa to date have achieved their main objectives with a high degree of success. In particular, they greatly widened the audience within each country that is interested in the CCD and aware of the importance of including its strategies and goals in national development policies. NAS's also provided an occasion for relevant political, social and economic interests to meet and take the first steps toward developing National Action Programs (NAPs) for implementing the CCD. Finally, NAS's launched a broad consultative process among domestic stakeholders and, in a few cases, international partners.

Since 1994, the majority of desertification-affected African countries have designated a national focal point for CCD-related activities. Some of them have established a national coordinating body (NCB), devoted to the preparation and implementation of NAPs, and have also already launched the consultative process leading to the elaboration of such programs.

Consultations have taken place between the NGO community and government authorities in many countries, resulting in fruitful cooperation and in the "bottom-up" approach encouraged by the CCD for developing operational strategies.

As Mr. Hama Arba Diallo says: "Africa is now on its way to elaborating advanced programs of action to combat desertification according to the framework set by the Convention. All affected African countries have by now completed the phase of so-called 'familiarization' with the Convention and have full knowledge of its principles and key ideas. Those countries which are more advanced in the process have also already started decentralized seminars, if not even their national forum. Preparatory activities at regional and subregional level also proceed at a very satisfactory pace."

At the regional level, the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) is working to establish the regional coordination unit (RCU) to support the implementation and follow-up of the CCD. Consultations are still going on so as to give Africa the necessary instruments to implement the Convention, specifically as concerns the Regional implementation annex for Africa.

Regional workshops and a technical meeting on priority areas took place during summer 1996. The problem of verifying the progress made in implementing the Convention in Africa was also the focus of specific meetings held throughout 1995 and 1996. Representatives of affected African countries and subregional organizations worked on the definition of "process indicators" capable of evaluating possible gaps between expectations and results at local, national, subregional and regional levels.

At the subregional level a number of consultations have been held, and four subregions have already organized initial subregional meetings. These meetings focused on the preparation of subregional action programs (SRAPs) and on the assessment of existing capacities in each subregion to formulate and implement the programs. Participants adopted recommendations identifying the necessary steps to take to proceed toward the elaboration of SRAPs, which will have to be launched in all parts of Africa. At the same time, NGOs have established subregional networks. Some subregional organizations are also preparing subregional fora. This process starts from the identification of stakeholders, the definition of priority areas, the elaboration of SRAPs, the organization of a subregional forum, the adoption and finally the implementation of the action plans.

In affected subregions, the competent authorities have the mandate to start implementing priority activities. Some subregional organizations have already informed the CCD Secretariat of activities concerning the preliminary review of existing strategies which were elaborated before the adoption of the CCD. These plans are now being adapted to the spirit of the Convention so as to be included in SRAPs.

In spite of the impressive achievements mentioned above, however, the CCD implementation process in Africa is not exempt from difficulties. During the INCD-9 meeting, Ambassador Bo Kjellen said: "We continue to feel that what has been done so far is not enough. The Convention is not sufficiently well known, it is not yet considered a major element in negotiations in development cooperation with affected countries. A lot remains to be done."

Mr. Diallo added: "While we consider that activities are well in progress or on their way, we also have to underline the fact that the implementation of urgent action for Africa also encounters some difficulties. At the national level, for example, the structure proposed usually seems to be conceptually perfect. But when we go and visit the affected countries which are most advanced in the implementation of the measures, and ask the responsible authorities about the process, they regularly answer that they meet incredible difficulties -- not only of financial character."

In fact, the CCD is a complex instrument: it requires the establishment of a "carrying framework," which implies decentralization, active participation of involved populations, adoption of sustainable development plans that include NAPs, and so on. Also, the activities of sensibilization and information have not always reached all the stakeholders, in particular the people in the field, the villages -- in other words those most directly affected by desertification.

Mr. Diallo concluded: "In many cases, countries that have already established the framework for action in implementing the Convention now have to face the difficulty of actually operationalizing their plans. Besides, not many countries have really achieved a real participative process yet; only a few have started and enhanced full participation and emancipation of local communities. At the international level, bilateral and multilateral donors are responding too shyly to the fact that there is a need for their major involvement."

In particular, the Convention encourages donor countries to take up the role of "chef de file." This means not only that they represent the international donors community, but also that they take active part in coordinating relations between the government of the affected country and its international partners. But as of today, only a few countries have decided to take up this role, while the exact characteristics of the chef de file still have to be defined in clearer terms. It is a work in process that still needs many inputs, most of them coming directly from experiences already on their way.

In spite of the problems, however, the progress achieved in Africa is so evident that the first regional meeting of African national focal points, together with their international partners, was held in Mauritania on November 18-22, 1996. It was a major occasion to compare difficulties, achievements, suggestions and different experiences in the work done so far. A platform of action resulting from this meeting will be the basis for indicating the support needed in each case, so as to facilitate also the designation of a chef de file for each single country, and from there move one step forward in the implementation of the Convention.

Interim Actions to Implement the CCD in the Mediterranean Region

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Interim actions are also underway in the Mediterranean region: in particular, concerning the Northern Mediterranean Annex, important progress has been made since the first regional conference held in Spain in June 1995.

At that time, representatives of 21 countries, the European Union, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and international institutions agreed to initiate the preparation of NAPs, thus laying the groundwork for regional and subregional plans of action. They also agreed to develop cooperative programs with other affected countries of the Mediterranean basin and to encourage awareness-building initiatives and political commitment to the Convention, particularly through information campaigns.

In July 1996 European countries met again in Spain for the Intergovernmental consultation to review implementation of the Northern Mediterranean Annex; they met again at the end of October 1996 in Crete. There, they reviewed preparatory activities already started in the region and in each country, and discussed further steps to be taken to proceed with implementation of the Convention.

In addition to these activities, non-governmental organizations have also actively participated in awareness raising activities, holding seminars and encouraging support for field activities through North-South networking. Among these initiatives, the European Environmental Bureau organized seminars on "Enhancing the European Union implementation of the CCD," to take place in Brussels in October and December 1996.

Finally, particular attention should be given to the research work done on the specific subject of the relations between desertification and migrations. After a first forum held in 1994 (resulting in the book Desertification and migrations, by J. Puigdefàbregas and T. Mendizàbal) and reference to the issue during the International Symposium on Environmentally Induced Population Displacements and Environmental Impacts Resulting from Mass Migrations (Switzerland, April 1996), more activities are planned in this field during the next year.

Future Activities

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Now that the CCD has been ratified, the next major milestone will be the opening of the first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), the body that will be responsible for implementing the treaty in the years to come. The COP will take place in late 1997 and will be hosted by the Italian government with the support of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

At the negotiating level, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Desertification will hold its 10th meeting from 6 - 16 January 1997, in New York. Important issues still need to be finalized before the first Conference of the Parties (COP) takes place. During the 9th INCD session (New York, 3 - 13 September 1996) the Committee's two working groups made significant progress on administrative arrangements for the Permanent Secretariat, the Rules of Procedure, financial rules for the COP, the terms of reference for the Committee on Science and Technology, and the scenario for reviewing the Convention's implementation.

Some of the key remaining issues include the functioning of the Global Mechanism and the criteria for selecting the institution which will house it. The Global Mechanism will support the Convention's implementation by helping to mobilize financial resources to support affected countries.

Governments have also started considering the three cities that have expressed interest in hosting the Permanent Secretariat for the CCD: Bonn, Germany;Montreal, Canada; and Murcia, Spain. They will vote for one of these candidates during the first COP.

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The staff of the Interim Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification can be reached at the following address:

Interim Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification
c/o Geneva Executive Center (GEC)
11/13 chemin des Anémones
1219 Châtelaine
Fax: +41 (22) 979-9030, 979-9031

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