Identified to curb land blight
unnoticed by a world caught up with the politics of the oncoming World Trade Organization summit in Cancun, the sixth conference of parties (cop-6) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (unccd) was held in Havana, Cuba, between August 25 and September 5. The third of the international conventions coming out of the 1992 Rio Summit -- the other two being the conventions on climate change and biodiversity -- this is often called Rio's stepchild because it addresses a concern that is limited to developing countries: land degradation and desertification.
The global North has traditionally tried to play down the importance of unccd claiming that desertification is a local phenomenon, not a global one. Developing countries argue that land degradation is a result of lopsided trade policies and leads to a systematic drain on the resources of the South. cop-6 saw several key developments but, in the main, lived up to its reputation.
The most important decision was to adopt the Global Environment Facility (gef) as the financial backbone to fund projects aimed at controlling land degradation. This was a victory of sorts for developing countries, as it has been a long-standing demand on their part. Herein lies the contradiction: developing countries have shunned gef in other conventions because of its complicated and bureaucratic procedures, and its proximity to the North-dominated Bretton Woods institutions.
Although gef has already allocated us $500 million for the next three years to support actions that address desertification and deforestation, this is peanuts when seen against the scale of the problem. The loss of income due to desertification is estimated at us $42 billion each year. The annual cost of preventing this damage is estimated at us $2.4 billion.
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