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Experts Urge Better Management And Information About Desert Spread

The UN predicts 60 million Africans from countries south of the Sahara will head for the north of the continent and towards Europe over the next 20 years if desertification is not halted.
by Pierre Lanfranchi
Tunis (AFP) Jun 21, 2006
The United Nations called Wednesday for better management and a wider spreading of scientific knowledge to fight the creeping spread of deserts across the world. At a conference in Tunis organised by the UN educational, scientific and cultural organisation UNESCO some 300 scientists adopted a resolution calling on govermments to make the issue a "major priority".

Deserts cover 41 percent of the world's surface and desertification menaces about 250 million people on five continents. Some 1.2 billion people in the world's 110 poorest states are under threat.

The environmental, economic, social and human consequences are enormous and could lead to mass migration. The UN predicts 60 million Africans from countries south of the Sahara will head for the north of the continent and towards Europe over the next 20 years if desertification is not halted.

In a "Declaration of Tunis" adopted after a conference on the future of the world's drylands the scientists called on governments to "place combatting desertification and development of drylands as a major priority and to create an enabling environment."

They called on governments and multilateral environmental agreements "to use sound scientific knowledge to formulate and implement policies, laws, regulations and action programmes vis-a-vis environmental issues stressing integrated management of natural resources and conservation practices."

The signatories pointed out that the world's drylands are home to more than two billion people with rich cultures and provide habitats to unique plant and animal species that need to be preserved for present and future generations.

But, they said, they were "concerned that many drylands are subject to land degradation and desertification as a result of extended droughts, climate change and human activities that exacerbate poverty and food insecurity."

Scientific knowledge on dryland environments and the socio-economic dimensions of dryland development had increased over the past 50 years, but important knowledge gaps remained.

New challenges and opportunities had emerged that needed to be addressed in order to promote sustainable development through a holistic approach and action plans to combat desertification.

"Drylands do have a future," said Walter Erdelen, UNESCO assistant director general for natural sciences at the end of the three-day conference, adding they should not "be neglected as remote or peripheral areas or considered as marginal with respect to their economic productivity."

The declaration underlines the role that the scientifc community has to play in disseminating its findings and making them available "to decision-makers and local dryland communities so that research can help shape sound policies and good governance as well as education on an interactive basis for sustainable dryland management and improved livelihoods."

The declaration places emphasis on conservation of cultural and biological diversity, integrated management of water resources and of disasters, whether natural or man-made, renewable energies and the importance of agriculture and pastoralism.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
UN Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organisation

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