Desertification conference calls for attention to situation in Central and Eastern Europe

Specific attention should be devoted to countries in Central and Eastern Europe affected by desertification and drought, particularly in the light of their problems and challenges, according to delegates at an international conference in desertification.

The Fourth conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), which sprang from the 1992 Rio conference, met in mid-December in Bonn, Germany. Around 1000 participants attended, including 111 NGOs, 90 IGOs and 40 UN bodies and specialist organisations.

One of the notable achievements at the latest conference has been the adoption of the fifth regional annex for Central and Eastern European countries. These include the task of economic transition; the variety of land degradation that has occurred; the crisis state of agriculture; the unsustainable exploitation of water resources; loss of forest cover and the risk of growing economic hardship and deteriorating social conditions in areas affected by land degradation, desertification and drought.

At the end of the previous converence, COP-3, many delegates spoke of missed opportunities, blaming time lost to procedural obstacles that hindered progress on substantial issues relating to the review of implementation of the convention. Delegates reportedly felt little had changed since COP-3, with many of the same problems relating to procedures, lack of leadership, and apparent disinterest in the CCD among some developed countries.

Implementation of the extra annex, which provides a regional plan of action for the area, was discussed on 14 December with Georgia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, all appealing to delegates to adopt the fifth CCD annex for Eastern and Central Europe. The annex would enable countries with transition economies to establish the legal basis necessary for CCD implementation. Nine Central and Eastern European countries are parties to CCD.

The new annex focuses on the particular conditions of the central and eastern European region, as well as detailing provisions for the preparation of national, subregional, regional and joint action programmes, technical, scientific and technological co-operation, the provision of financial resources and mechanisms, and the development of an institutional framework.

Syria, speaking for the Asian region, backed by Tunisia and Mauritania, welcomed the draft annex but emphasised that its implementation should not affect resources for implementation in other regions. The draft decision was considered by the Committee Of the Whole (COW) on 22 December, and submitted for adoption the same day.

Also at the conference, countries with existing National Action Programmes also reported on initiatives, successes and problems. Affected countries emphasised that solutions required predictable financial support, enhanced South-South cooperation, and the possibility of opening access to GEF funds to support programmes to combat desertification.

Delegates also urged all agencies to take proactive financial measures, and indicated strategic areas for action including development of new and renewable energy sources; sustainable land use management, including water, soil and vegetation; development of sustainable agricultural systems; and development of early warning systems for food security and drought forecasting.

Delegates will meet again in spring 2001 to continue the review of reports, before the next session of the conference, which will be held in September 2001.

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