Cooperation key to drought prevention, UN officials stress at high-level meeting

Photo: WFP/Phil Behan

11 March 2013 – Countries need to work together to use their experiences, science and technologies to create formal national preventive policies against droughts, United Nations officials said today at the opening of a high-level international meeting designed to make the world less susceptible to the impacts of water scarcity.

“Prevention must be our priority,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his video message to the opening of the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva.

“No single nation can insulate itself from global shocks. The only way to respond is through cooperation – between countries and among civil society, government and business.”

Organized jointly by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and partners, the five-day meeting brings together policymakers, development agencies and leading scientists and researchers.

“We have the knowledge, we have the experience, and we can reduce the impact of droughts,” said the WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, in his opening remarks.

“What we need now is a policy framework and action on the ground in all countries that suffer from drought,” he added. Australia is the only country with a formal national drought policy.

Droughts have affected the Greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the US, Mexico, Brazil, parts of China and India, Russia and South-east Europe. In addition, 168 countries claim to be affected by desertification, a process of land degradation in the drylands that affects food production and is exacerbated by drought.

“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages, particularly in developing countries,” said the Special Representative of the FAO Director General, Ann Tutwiler.

More than 11 million people died, and 2 billion have been affected, by droughts since 1900, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

A main objective of the Geneva meeting is to familiarize countries with drought preparedness measures, including technical knowledge and conditions for the successful development of drought policies, Ms. Tutwiler said.

Organizers said they hope the meeting will lead to the development of national drought management policies focusing on cooperation and coordination at all levels of government and which increase governments’ capacity to cope with extended periods of water scarcity, said the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, Luc Gnacadja.

He stressed that governments and the international community need to stop reacting to droughts as “fire fighters” given their predictability and crippling effects on society.

“Almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water scarcity by 2030,” Mr. Gnacadja warned.

The meeting comes ahead of World Water Day, marked annually on 22 March. This year’s theme is international cooperation, echoing the General Assembly’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.


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