UN launches International Year of Deserts and Desertification

1 January 2006 – The United Nations today launched its International Year of Deserts and Desertification to raise global public awareness of the advancing deserts, of ways to safeguard the biological diversity of arid lands covering one-third of the planet and protecting the knowledge and traditions of the 2 billion people affected by the phenomenon.

The Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) stressed the importance of recognizing that in addition to the human and environmental cost of the degradation that contributes to the problem, the drylands are the location of some of the most magnificent ecosystems of this world: the deserts.

Summarizing the treaty's goals, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "I look forward to working with Governments, civil society, the private sector, international organizations and others to focus attention on this crucial issue, and to make every day one on which we work to reverse the trend of desertification and set the world on a safer, more sustainable path of development."

Desertification and drought cause an estimated loss of $42 billion a year from agricultural production, contribute to food insecurity, famine and poverty and can give rise to social, economic and political tensions that can cause conflicts, further impoverishment and land degradation, according to the Convention's Secretariat.

“It is widely recognized that environmental degradation has a role to play in considerations of national security, as well as international stability. Therefore, desertification has been seen as a threat to human security," UNCCD Executive Secretary Hama Arba Diallo added.

At the same time, these natural habitats with their incredibly diverse fauna have been home to some of the world's oldest civilizations and the Convention's Secretariat hopes the Year will also celebrate the fragile beauty and unique heritage of the world's deserts, which deserve protection.

The Convention's 10th anniversary will be marked in December 1996. Currently, the Convention counts 191 states parties, making it one of the most representative instruments on environmental protection stemming from the 1992 Rio “Earth Summit.”

Prominent among the international celebrations will be a weeklong film festival in June in Rome, called “Desert Nights,” with documentaries and feature films on people in the drylands. The best fiction films from countries affected by desertification within the five regions of the convention – Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Northern Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe – will win awards.

The honorary spokespersons for the year are Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Environment Minister Cherif Rahmani of Algeria and Bulgarian international football star and Golden Boot winner Hristo Stoitchkov.

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