The Desertification Information System in the Mediterranean, set up by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

(UNCCD), the European Environment Agency and the Italian Foundation for Applied Meteorology, was launched on 28 September, and will involve federal governments in the Mediterranean area and supra-national organisations, such as the European Commission.

The programme’s backers say that the initiative will fill a gap which has been missing from policy making and research concerning a problem the adverse effects of which are becoming evermore visible, particularly in countries such as Spain.

“All countries in the Mediterranean are affected by desertification and land degradation in some degrees,” Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, Mr. Hama Arba Diallo said. “However, the exact quantification, geographical distribution and total impact of such processes are only roughly known. We need to provide policy makers of all involved countries with better and homogeneous information, with a view to facilitate the elaboration, implementation and evaluation of effective

programs to combat desertification at the local, national and regional

levels.”

According to UNCCD spokesperson, Sonia Filippazzi, the causes of desertification in the Mediterranean area vary, as do the skills different countries can use to collective ends: “Whereas the main cause of desertification worldwide is land degradation through poverty, which is the case in the South Mediterranean countries, in the northern ones it is inappropriate agricultural practices. Unsustainable tourism aggravates the situation in all of the countries around the Mediterranean and forest fires are also a factor,” she told edie.

The UNCCD has made tentative estimates that, at the present rates of erosion, considerable areas in the Mediterranean currently not at risk may reach a state of ultimate physical degradation, beyond a point of no return within 50-75 years.

“The case of Mediterranean desertification is different to the experience in other countries because it involves rich countries, who will bring resources for financing and researching projects, whereas the North African countries will bring their long experience of studying and fighting desertification,” Filippazzi said.

The three-year project aims at improving the capacity of Mediterranean governments to effectively plan measures and policies to combat desertification and the effects of drought. This will be achieved through “reinforcing communication flows, facilitating the exchange of information and establishing a common information system to monitor the physical and socio-economic conditions of areas at risk and assess the extent, severity and the trend of land degradation.”

Expected results include the identification of a common set of key benchmarks and impact indicators, the production of vulnerability mapping and databases. Furthermore, the project will facilitate the exchange of information between

partners and the transfer of technology, says the UNCCD.

“I think the most important result of the study will be that policymakers will have a common tool in their hands to know exactly where policy gaps are, and how to fill them successfully,” said Filippazzi. “At present each country has yet to attempt to integrate their measurement standards which are not comparable with others. The study will change that providing a common benchmark on desertification for all Mediterranean countries to work from.”

The spokesperson said that the countries involved in the project are: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. The project has been launched a few months before the opening of the fourth

session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD (Bonn, Germany, 11-22

December). Items on the agenda will include, among others, reviews of

programs and policies to combat desertification, as well as of support to

affected countries by the international community. 167 countries are

currently Party to the Convention, which entered into force in December 1997

and is a major follow up to the Rio Summit on Environment and Development.

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