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. Annan Warns Of Poverty And Conflict As Deserts Expand

UN chief Kofi Annan.
by Staff Writers
Algiers (AFP) Jun 07, 2006
UN chief Kofi Annan warned Monday of worsening poverty and conflict if nothing is done quickly to save the world's drylands from desertification, especially in Africa.

Annan told an international conference to mark World Environment Day that desertification was exacerbating extreme poverty and sparking conflict over dwindling resources, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

"Across the planet, poverty, unsustainable land management and climate change are turning drylands into deserts, and desertification in turn exacerbates and leads to poverty," Annan said in a letter read to conference delegates in the Algerian capital.

"There is also mounting evidence that dryland degradation and competition over increasingly scarce resources can bring communities into conflict," he said.

Drylands are found in all regions, cover more than 40 percent of the earth and are home to nearly two billion people -- one-third of the world's population.

Around 10-20 percent of drylands are already degraded, which is a "serious obstacle to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and is jeopardizing efforts to ensure environmental sustainability," Annan said.

A proposed "World Charter on Deserts and To Combat Desertification" was submitted to participants, with proposals on how to improve living standards and protect the environment in dryland areas. In line with the theme of the day, "Don't Desert Drylands," Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called for a global plan to fight desertication.

Desertification and poverty "cannot be confined to narrow national and regional contexts and spaces because they go beyond the political and natural borders of nation states," Bouteflika said. "Deserts are threatening the food security of poor countries, particularly in Africa, where the number of malnourished people doubled to 200 million in 1995 from 100 million at the end of the 1960s."

He added that without a global plan to get rid of desertification, conflicts to gain access to resources were bound to occur, leading to suffering and mass immigration.

"The task is immense and the needs important," Bouteflika said, adding he hoped this year "could offer time for debate and reflection and contribute to sensitising policy-makers so that arid zones are at last protected."

The UN has declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification, with a summit of heads of state planned in October 2006 in Algiers.

Eighty percent of Algeria's territory is taken up by the Sahara, one of the largest deserts in the world.

"It is recommended that we reflect lucidly and without complacency on the process of desertification, which, no matter how inevitable it now looks, is not certainty either geologically or climatically," Bouteflika said.

The Algerian president said that with deserts growing "at an alarming rate," desertification will be "one of the global problems of the 21st century".

Source: Agence France-Presse

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