Taking stock

More than 150 nations gather to assess the damage from mounting ecological and social catastrophes

Published: Friday 31 December 1999

seven years after the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where countries around the world vowed to stop desertification, officials gathered in another Brazilian city of Recife to assess local as well as global regeneration measures undertaken so far. More than 150 countries signed the Recife Initiative, which aims to take stock of the mounting ecological and social catastrophes. The countries have resolved to protect fertile land from desertification.

Among other things, deforestation, increasing population pressures and excessive farming and grazing are to be blamed for turning approximately 150,000 sq km -- an area larger than the New York state -- to sandy waste each year. The damage due to this phenomenon amounts to us $4 billion annually and affects more than one billion people, many of whom have been forced to migrate to cities and other countries in search of work and food.

Unfortunately, at the Recife convention, disagreements between the developed and the developing countries over who should foot the bill ultimately dashed hopes of a major budget increase to combat desertification. It was believed that the two-year operating budget would be increased from us $6.1 million to us $19.6 million. Member nations, however, only agreed on us $13.7 million. Developed countries said that they were spending billions of dollars every year on programmes to fight degradation, erosion and poverty and that developed countries needed to ensure that some of these funds were earmarked for the drive against desertification.

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