Sand-bagged over cash

The international convention on desertification is plagued by differences of opinion on financial resources and funding mechanisms
Sand-bagged over cash

THE countdown has begun for the adoption, in June, of the UN's International Convention to Combat Desertification. However, global efforts to arrive at a consensus on the issue are proving almost as tortuous as the problem that the convention seeks to address. The recently-held 4th session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the elaboration of an international convention to combat desertification, in Geneva, showed that some old ghosts still need to be exorcised to allay the fears of the people threatened by desertification.

The major areas of contention are the question of financial resources and Africa's insistence on specific funding commitments from developed countries. A North-South polarisation has emerged on the question of finance. The developing countries are demanding additional financial resources to tackle desertification, along with an independent financial mechanism that can mobilise funds to combat desertification. The developed countries, however, reiterate that they want to see a better utilisation of existing resources before they pour in more money. They also reject the idea of a new fund, saying they would rather use available funding mechanisms. Besides, the US and Switzerland have vociferously opposed guaranteeing 0.7 per cent of their GNP for Overseas Development Assistance by the year 2000.

Africa's demand for aid to tackle desertification on a priority basis has haunted the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee right from the first session in May 1993, when Africa raised the hackles of other developing nations by purporting to be the primary beneficiary of anti-desertification funds. Developed countries, however, refuse to be tied down by specific commitments made either to Africa or the other developing countries. Though Africa, Asia and Latin America have now been identified as three regional blocs for action, Africa still insists on specific commitments, an idea that the donor countries and other regional representatives seem uncomfortable with.

Amidst the wrangling, the problem of desertification has taken a backseat. A softening of stands, by both sides, is necessary if the problem is to be overcome.

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