Volume 4, Issue 1 - February/March 1997

In this issue:

Cabin Crew, Prepare for Landing ...
Severe Water Stress is Widespread, Major Study Concludes
Water and Energy Subsidies Penalize the Poorest, Says HLAB
Employment Growth Heads Agenda of Commission for Social Development
John Langmore Takes Over at Division for Social Policy and Development
Poor Women Bear both Brunt and Blame of Environmental Degradation
Agenda for Development
To Town, To Town
Microcredit a Hope for African Poor
Fewer Countries on LDCs List
INCD 10 Suspends Session
Secretary-General Appoints Senior Officials

Cabin Crew, Prepare for Landing ...

Countdown to the fourth and final session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forest

Between 11 and 21 February Governments are meeting for their final negotiations in the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. The Panel will decide on international action for the world’s forests, focussing on what promises to be an intense debate on the need for a Convention on Forests.

This is the last meeting in a series of four held over eighteen months. In aviation terms it can be said that the Panel has managed to complete the route to destination, avoiding major areas of turbulence, but that there is no assurance of a smooth landing. For the continuation of the journey, if the UNGA should so decide, a change of plane for passengers and crew is foreseen. Please don’t leave behind any personal belongings...

The Panel has decided that its main discussion on the need, or otherwise, for a Convention would be kept to the final meeting in New York. However, the Panel held an initial discussion at its meeting in Geneva in September 1996, where several options for follow-up action were put forward by governments. Several of them tabled their desire to start negotiations immediately of a Convention on Forests, others wanted the international debate to continue in a fashion similar to the Panel's, while considering potential elements to be included in a convention. Some governments merely wanted improved coordination and implementation of existing legal instruments. Others felt that a voluntary code of conduct for forest owners, industry and investors would be the most efficient means of ensuring the overall well being of the world's forests. The debate on the issue of an international Convention on Forests is likely to be the main centre of attention during this, the final, meeting of the Panel.

Increasing awareness of the many benefits that can be reaped from a sustainably managed forest and the innate sustainability of trees as a renewable resource, make forests a very attractive solution for a multitude of problems and this has sent governments into action. Countries like China have a campaign of creating a "great green wall" of forest, the Amazonian countries have reached an agreement on criteria and indicators for the sustainable management of the Amazonian forest, and more and more countries are prepared to sit down in international fora and discuss the many sensitive and difficult issues involved in the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of the world’s forests. It is therefore unlikely that IPF IV will be the end of the journey as far as a policy and political forum on forests is concerned.

The Panel will forward its report and recommendations to the Fifth session of the CSD and subsequently to the UN's General Assembly Special Session on Agenda 21 in June, where the ultimate decision on the Panel's recommendations will be taken.

In the meantime the IPF crew is preparing for landing: making sure everybody have their documentation ready, seats are in the upright position, the no smoking sign is on ...and hoping that oxygen masks will not suddenly drop down from their overhead compartments.


Compared to the situation before IPF III the status of the official documentation for the Fourth and final session of the IPF is excellent, thanks to our colleagues in document processing, editing and translation. It is available in English on the Panel’s Web page on the Internet at:
For other language versions please use the Optical Disk System accessible at Headquarters. The documents are:

  • Provisional Agenda and Annotations: Adoption of the Agenda and Other Organizational Matters (E/CN.17/IPF/1997/1)
  • Report of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests on its Third Session, Geneva, 9-20 September 1996 (E/CN.17/IPF/1997/2)
  • Elements of a Draft Report: Note by the Secretariat: Note by the Co-Chairmen of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (E/CN.17/IPF/1997/3)
  • Report of the Secretary-General on Programme Element V.1: International Organizations and Multilateral Institutions and Instruments (E/CN.17/IPF/1997/4)
  • Report of the Secretary-General on Programme Element V.2: Contribution to Consensus Building Towards the Further Implementation of the Forest Principles Including Appropriate Legal Instruments and Mechanisms Covering All Types of Forests (E/CN.17/IPF/1997/5)
Tage Michaelsen, IPF Secretariat

(borrowing heavily from texts prepared by Elisabeth Barsk-Rundquist)

Severe Water Stress is Widespread, Major Study Concludes

The current use of the freshwater resources in many parts of the world is not sustainable:
  • Presently, about 1/3 of the world population is living in areas suffering from moderate to severe water stress, i.e. where water limits the possibilities of development.
  • If actions are not taken, it is expected that 2/3 of the population of the Earth or close to 5.5 billion people, will face this situation by 2025.
  • In 1995, 20% of the world population did not have access to safe drinking water and 50% lacked proper sanitation.
  • In order for the totality of the world’s population to safe sanitation by 2025, it would require adding serves for 5 billion people in the next 30 years, or about 450,000 each day.
  • Water quality is deteriorating due to pollution from almost all human activities. In most cities in the developing world, less than 10% of the sewage has any kind of treatment.
Even though humanity is facing these challenges, it is at the same time of utmost importance to leave enough clean water to preserve aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

These are some of the major conclusions in the recently completed Comprehensive Assessment on the Freshwater Resources of the World *. This report was prepared in accordance with a request from the Commission on Sustainable Development at its second session in 1994 and will be submitted to the fifth session of the CSD in April and the special session of the General Assembly in June. The assessment was prepared through a Steering Committee composed of representatives from a number of UN organizations (Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Department of Development Support and Management Services, Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, UNESCO, UNIDO, World Bank, World Health Organization and World Meteorological Organization) and the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase during the 20th Century and is continuing to grow rapidly in many regions of the world. Since 1970, the theoretically available amount of water per capita has decreased by almost 40%. Pollution is causing widespread public health problems, adding to the water shortages, and causing serious harm to ecosystems, especially in rivers, lakes and coastal areas both in developing and the developed countries. The pollution, stemming from a variety of activities such as agriculture, forestry, urban and industrial development, is either discharged directly to the river systems or lakes, to the groundwater or indirectly through air pollution.

The assessment calls for urgent and immediate actions to prevent further deterioration of the situation. Although most problems related to water quantity and quality issues call for national and regional actions, it would be illusory to believe that anything short of a global commitment would provide the means to achieve sustainability. Any action must take into account a wide range of social, ecological and economic factors and needs. Governments need to enhance on-going dialogues so as to achieve a global consensus as to the type of actions that are so urgently needed.

One important issue highlighted in the assessment is that of global food security. Some countries need to make a transition from food self-sufficiency (a capacity to produce all food within the country) to food self-reliance (a capacity to provide food from national sources and through purchase from the international market). Such an integration of the world economy must consider world market conditions. Countries can only make such transition if they can rely on the world agricultural markets to provide a dependable and efficient source of supplies at stable international prices. While taking into consideration social aspects, water must also be considered to have an economic value. The cost of using or misusing water does not disappear, but must be paid by the user or by the community at large. Pollution prevention can be achieved through the Polluter Pay Principle. There is further a need to strengthen international cooperation among riparian states since more than 300 major river basins, and many groundwater aquifers, cross national boundaries.

This assessment, as do past studies, underscores existing weaknesses in national water resource assessment capabilities and monitoring networks in many countries, particularly with regard to water quality. Hydrological information, water use and quality data, demographic data, forestry and land management data need to be harmonized and made more easily available. The national competence must be strengthened through education and partnerships with the private sector and within academia, to develop the research capacity especially in the developing countries.

Experience has shown that the consequences of inaction, in terms of human suffering, social disruptions, foregone economic opportunities and the cost of undoing the harm caused to the resource and the environment will usually outweigh the human and financial resources needed to follow a sustainable development path.

Pierre Najlis and Johan Kuylenstierna, DSD

*/ Doc symbol: E/CN.17/1997/9; also available online through the DPCSD home page: http://www.un.org/dpcsd

Water and Energy Subsidies Penalize the Poorest, Says HLAB

The High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development, meeting in Monaco from 14 to 17 January, adopted a report calling for more rational pricing of energy and water to promote more sustainable uses of those resources, and better planning of transportation to reduce pollution and urban congestion. The report will go the the Commission for Sustainable Development in April and the Special Session of the General Assembly in June, which will review progress in sustainable development in the five years since the Rio Earth Summit (UNCED) and plan a work programme for the future.

In calling for price increases to promote conservation of energy and water, the Board also called for social measures such as "lifeline" pricing of basic services for low-income households and extension of services to unserved areas to ensure equitable development, with the costs of such measures to be covered by the increased revenues. To ensure the political feasibility of price increases, the Board noted that some of the increased revenues might also be used to compensate industry or other influential groups that would suffer losses from the introduction of more sustainable resource management policies.

The Board, established by the Secretary-General following the 1992 Rio Conference, held its seventh session in Monaco at the invitation of the Government of Monaco as part of the Principality's celebration of its 700th anniversary. At the opening ceremony, Prince Albert welcomed members of the Board and gave a keynote address emphasizing his Government's concern with environmental issues and noting Monaco's contributions to United Nations and other international efforts to protect the environment, particularly in the Mediterranean region.

In response to a request from the Secretary-General to prepare an independent assessment of implementation of Agenda 21, focusing on long-term issues that were not being adequately addressed by current intergovernmental processes, the Board had previously identified energy, water and transport as critical issues for sustainable development in the 21st century.

The Board noted that energy and water consumption were heavily subsidized in many countries, encouraging inefficient use that contributed to air pollution, global warming and water scarcity. Not only should subsidies be eliminated, concluded the Board, but external costs such as pollution should also be factored into prices. The Board recognized, however, that such full-cost pricing would have to be introduced gradually in order to avoid economic and social dislocation and reduce political resistance.

In its discussions, the Board rejected the view that the elimination of general subsidies will hurt the poor, noting that subsidies have mostly gone to wealthier households, that low revenues have prevented utilities from providing services to low-income communities which therefore pay much higher prices for alternative supplies, that the poor bear the greatest burdens from pollution and other consequences of overconsumption of energy and water, and that a small proportion of the money consumed in subsidies, if properly targeted, could compensate poor people for higher prices.

The Board is an expert body with 18 members serving in their individual capacities. They come from 18 different countries and from government agencies, educational and research institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The Board meets twice a year to formulate policy proposals, examine innovative approaches to sustainable development, and identify emerging issues to be brought to the attention of intergovernmental and coordinating bodies of the United Nations system. The members are appointed by the Secretary-General for a term of two years.

The Board's discussions involved not only its members, but also a number of invited specialists in the fields of energy, water and transport development. These experts included representatives of Lyonnnaise des Eaux, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Dow Europe, Electricité de France, the South African electricity utility Eskom, the OECD, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Mediterranean Action Plan. Their discussions with the Board focused on promoting cooperation between international, governmental and private sector organizations and on ways to promote private investment in the sustainable development of energy, water and transport.

Ralph Chipman, DSD

Employment Growth Heads Agenda of Commission for Social Development

Heads of State and Government committed themselves at the World Summit for Social Development "to promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of economic and social policies, and to enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive employment and work". Representatives of Governments, of the United Nations system and of non-governmental organizations will come together at the next session of the Commission for Social Development to discuss policies and programmes to give that commitment force.

Full employment is well established in the goals and objectives of the United Nations system: the Charter of the United Nations, in article 55, makes explicit reference to the need to promote, inter alia, "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development"; the ILO's Declaration of philadelphia in 1944 contained a strong commitment to the pursuit of full employment; the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund refer to the "... promotion and maintenance of high levels of employment ..." among its objectives. Yet, particularly during the last two decades, achieving the goal of full employment has generally received less attention than it did between 1945 and the early 1970s. A central challenge for governments now is how to fulfill the commitment made at Copenhagen to restore full employment to the centre of economic and social policies. The Commission can serve as a forum for the exchange of experience governments and the private sector have had in the pursuit of full employment. Attainment of the objective of full employment also requires an understanding of the obstacles to giving a higher priority to the goal of full employment.

The Commission will meet for its 35th regular session at United Nations Headquarters from 25 February to 6 March 1997. This will be the Commission's first meeting since the decision by ECOSOC to expand its membership from 32 to 46 and to schedule annual sessions. At the same time, ECOSOC confirmed that Commission meetings would be the primary intergovernmental forum for review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. The enhancement of productive employment was one of the three core issues considered at the World Summit. The Commission will have before it a report on the subject prepared by the International Labour Office with contributions from throughout the UN system.

As part of its discussion of productive employment, the Commission has been asked to pay particular attention to three sub-topics derived from the Copenhagen Programme of Action: the centrality of employment in policy formulation, including a broader recognition of work and employment; improving access to productive resources and infrastructure; and enhanced quality of work and employment. Two panel discussions will be organized, bringing in outside experts to consider these issues and to engage in question-and-answer sessions with delegations. It is expected that the Commission will provide views and suggestions on policies and programmes to enhance and make operational the goals agreed to at Copenhagen.

This session of the Commission will also provide the occasion for another dialogue with the Chairpersons of the Interagency Task Forces on follow-up to international conferences. The task forces on

  • employment and sustainable livelihoods
  • basic social services
  • the enabling environment for economic and social development, and for the advancement of women,
were established by the Administrative Committee on Coordination to coordinate the actions taken by the United Nations system to promote the goals and to assist governments to implement the policies and programmes derived from the international conferences convened during the 1990s.

The schedule for the 35th session is busy: the Commission will receive the report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability, Mr. Bengt Lindqvist, who was appointed by the Commission to promote awareness and implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, and it is expected to decide on the future functions of the Special Rapporteur; it will conduct the fourth quadrennial review of the implementation of the International Programme of Action on Ageing and consider preparations for the upcoming International Year of Older Persons, to be observed in 1999; it will review reports on the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth and on the International Year of the Family and provide its views and comments to ECOSOC and the General Assembly in these areas.

The Commission will also receive the 1997 Report on the World Social Situation, produced by the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis DESIPA). This review of current global social conditions -- produced every four years -- will form a basis upon which the Commission will conduct its consideration of the post-Copenhagen world.

Robert Huber, DSPD

Information and documents on the Commission for Social Development can be found at the web site of the Division for Social Policy and Development:

John Langmore Takes Over at Division for Social Policy and Development

Mr. John Langmore has been appointed to head the Division for Social Policy and Development starting January 1997. He succeeds Jacques Baudot who retired at the end of 1995.

Mr. Langmore, an Australian national, has, for the last twelve years, been a member of the Australian Parliament where he has chaired or initiated major inquiries into such subjects as employment, the World Bank and the IMF, Third World debt, the current account deficit, infrastructure, international aid and retaining biodiversity. He is coauthor of a recent book on employment entitled Work For All, published by Melbourne University Press.

He chaired the Australian National Committee for the World Summit for Social Development, was deputy leader of the Australian delegation to each of the preparatory committee meetings and attended the Summit.

Before being elected to the Australian House of Representatives Mr Langmore was Senior Private Secretary to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Economic Advisor to the Treasurer. He proposed the prices and incomes accord between the government and the union movement, a policy which was used effectively throughout the period from 1983 to 1996 and which was crucial in the simultaneous achievement of rapid employment growth and low inflation.

Prior to his staff work and membership of the Australian Parliament, Mr. Langmore worked in Papua New Guinea for 13 years as both a university lecturer and as Assistant Director of the National Planning Office.

Mr. Langmore is a past President of Parliamentarians for Global Action and is currently a member of the International Council of the Society for International Development. He was educated at Melbourne, Monash and Cambridge Universities. He has published extensively on many issues in the areas of national and international economic and social policy, international peace and security and the environment, including jointly editing two books: Alternative Strategies for Papua New Guinea published by Oxford University Press and Wealth, Poverty and Survival published by Allen and Unwin.

As member of the delegation of Australia, Mr. Langmore participated actively at the World Summit for Social Development, both during its preparatory process and at the Summit itself.

His first major task in his new position will be to manage the meeting of the Commission for Social Development to be held between 25 February and 6 March. The major themes for discussion at the meeting are: employment growth; and social programmes.

Division for Social Policy and Development

Poor Women Bear both Brunt and Blame of Environmental Degradation

The issue of women, population and sustainable development was especially in focus at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED - the Earth Summit) in Rio, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing. The agreements reached at these conferences reflected an evolving understanding within the international community of the interlinkages within that issue (see box).

In order to assess the progress in the implementation of those recommendations, and to identify the ways and means of making further headway in an integrated manner, the Division for the Advancement of Women together with the Division for Sustainable Development, UNFPA and INSTRAW organized an expert group meeting "Women, population and sustainable development: the road from Rio, Cairo and Beijing". The meeting took place at the headquarters of INSTRAW in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from 18 to 22 November 1996.

The main objective of the meeting was to establish the interrelationships between population and sustainable development from a gender perspective that would be used as a basis for planning, policy formulation and implementation. It served also the purpose of coordinating efforts and resources in the implementation process and of mainstreaming a gender perspective in UN activities related to population and sustainable development.

The discussion during the meeting brought to the fore in particular the following themes:

  • the understanding of gender and its relationship to population and sustainable development;
  • the relationship between women and the environment;
  • the interlinkages between global and local manifestations of crises in sustainable development; and
  • the issue of women in decision-making for sustainable development.
The Meeting emphasized that conventionally women had been seen one-dimensionally either as victims or saviours of environmental crisis. The accent was on the impact of environmental degradation on poor women, increasing their double burden of work, as they have greater difficulty in gathering fuel or fetching water. The implicit assumption was that, because women are managers of primary resources, they are also responsible for the depletion of these resources. At best, this approach placed greater responsibility on women: not only must they cope with managing scare resources, poverty and reproductive roles but they must find a way of doing so while preserving the environment. At worst, this approach blamed women for environmental degradation. Such an approach also focused on women in their reproductive role alone. It tended to make them responsible for the population growth which, in turn, exacerbates the resource depletion and non-sustainability.

However after Rio, Cairo and Beijing the emphasis on a " special relationship" between women and nature should give way to a better understanding of the complexities of the interlinkages between gender roles and sustainable development and the role of women as actors in relation to environmental issues.

Participants stressed that women are not a homogenous group: such factors as age, race, socio-economic status are equally significant and needed in policy analysis and programmes. In addition the analysis of the impacts of sustainable development should also take into account both the reproductive and productive roles of women and men. Experts agreed that applying a gender perspective as expressed in Cairo and Beijing provides a framework for better understanding the differential impacts and the differentiated policy responses addressing the needs of women and men in order to achieve greater equality and equity. Failure to take a gender perspective into account has often resulted in women’s and men’s needs having been ignored. For example the precautionary principle, if applied with a gender perspective, will result in different and more timely policy and programme responses *.

Participants generally agreed that the global issues of sustainable development, including globalization of the economy, manifest themselves at the local level. However, while some issues can be resolved at the local level, with costs and benefits accruing within the community or locality, for example water and air pollution, some global issues cannot. Taking into account the political priority attached to the global issues there should be more attention to the relationship between local and global causes and effects and their gender impact.

Results presented to the meeting from the case studies undertaken in Latin American peri-urban and rural communities confirm that while women are the first line of defence in protecting the health and well being of their families and communities, their ability to do so is often diminished by decisions and causes of degradation that take place outside the community or the locality where they are able to have an impact on decisions and results. However, in many situations, women may bear the brunt of the costs at the local level. They are forced to work longer hours with fewer resources for lower rewards. In addition the women's ability to mitigate environmental degradation is restricted by the lack of equal access to productive resources and capital. Women's ability to mitigate environmental degradation is restricted by the lack of resources available to them. Such situations exist in much of the Africa region. There, despite the global environmental problems and impact of globalized economic system, including structural adjustment programs, the relationship of women to the environment as important producers, managers and consumers remains a visible constant, but is tempered by limits to access and control over resources.

The meeting emphasized that there is a need for a different development perspective that integrates the micro and macro, bridges the public and private domains (especially the productive and reproductive spheres), and empowers different sections of society to be effective in decision making. A gender-sensitive connection should be made between macro-economic and political processes: overconsumption of natural resources by the few in the North and poverty of the many in the South. A gender perspective is essential to establish the cross sectoral links as women play a mediating role in all spheres of society. Women as well as men have a vested interest in sustainable development. Women's empowerment and increased role in decision making are a necessary prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.

The expert group meeting emphasized that the increase of women's participation in decision making positions at all levels, in all spheres of society, is a matter of rights and justice. The experts noted that it has been well documented in all regions of the world, that at the local level the presence of women in decision making does result in different decisions related to population and sustainable development, because of the way in which women's productive and reproductive roles link them to the conditions and resources central to sustainable development.

However, the focus on women's empowerment and participation in decision-making should not divert attention from men's responsibility in averting and managing environmental crisis and population stabilization. Economic and political empowerment of women does not mean that they should take on themselves the additional burden of environmental change simply because they have more local or household instruments to do so.

The Meeting concluded that the concept of gender and its application to issues of sustainable development and population had evolved through the three conferences. The new perspectives and agreement on the interrelationship between gender, sustainable development and population as developed in Cairo and Beijing should bring new light to strategies for implementation of Agenda 21 and in particular for taking decisions on priorities for future work to be decided by a special session of the General Assembly to review Agenda 21 in 1997.

The implementation of the Beijing recommendations should be undertaken along with the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Cairo Programme of Action in an integrated way including the agreements of all UN conferences and summits. In that respect the issue of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the area of sustainable development should be in the focus of review of the implementation of Agenda 21 to be discussed by a special session of the General Assembly in 1997.

Natalia Zakharova, DAW

* Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration states

"In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by the states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation". The expert group meeting emphasized that application of that principle should take a gender perspective into account because the impact of environmental degradation might have different impact on women and men.

The Gender Perspective

Agenda 21 adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio identified sustainable development as a broad concept that seeks to integrate and balance political, economic, social and environmental goals and aims to meet the needs of present and future generations. It recognized the critical role of women in achieving sustainable development and put the issue of women and the environment on the world agenda. Chapter 24, entitled "Global action for women towards sustainable and equitable development" called for the analysis of the structural linkages between gender relations, environment and development and emphasized the need to raise the status of women. However, Chapter 24, by referring to women as a major societal group along with children, youth and indigenous people, implies that mainstream development is essentially male.

This concept was rejected in Cairo. There, the imperative of gender equality and equity was underscored by declaring that there could not be sustainable development without full participation of women. The importance of women's empowerment was emphasized. The ICPD Programme of Action took also major steps to adopt a new paradigm of population and development that shifted the focus of the population debate from demographic concerns to the well-being of women and men at the center of sustainable development. It has established a new framework for family planning, in the context of reproductive health.

The Beijing Platform for Action reaffirmed the advances made in Rio and Cairo and went beyond the traditional integration of women into existing development agenda by emphasizing the need to mainstream a gender perspective from the very beginning. In Beijing the women's agenda became a gender agenda based on the evolution of conceptual thinking about development as well as on the changes that had taken place in the women's movement and the different space occupied by women around the world. The Beijing Platform for Action considered the issue of women and the environment in the context of sustainable development as one of its twelve critical areas of concern.

The web site of the Division for the Advancement of Women is at:

Agenda for Development

The Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly on an Agenda for Development has entered its third year of existence. It had last met in early September of last year, when it tried to tackle, with little success, the difficult question of institutional issues and follow-up which are the topics of the third, and final, chapter of the Agenda.

Since September the joint Vice-chairmanship has changed hands from Ambassador Mongbé of Benin and Ambassador Osvald of Sweden to Ambassador Mangoaela of Lesotho and Ambassador Powles of New Zealand while the President of the 51st General Assembly, Ambassador Razali, has assumed the chair ex officio.

In early January the Group received the latest document concerning the Agenda (A/AC.250/CRP.2/Rev.1; also available on the Internet) which contains all amendments to the outstanding paragraphs in all three chapters. In view of the highly cumbersome amended text in chapter three, the Vice-chairmen decided to provide the Group with a "Discussion Paper" which, to a large extent, provides a clean synthesis of the various proposals to that chapter. It is the intention of the Vice-chairmen to focus the attention of the Group, when it reconvenes from 11 to 21 February, on those paragraphs in chapter III that contain difficult and unresolved issues thereby avoiding less fruitful debates on paragraphs that are perhaps not perfect but are none the less acceptable in the final analysis.

Parallel to this process, the Vice-chairmen have set in motion informal consultations on the 30-odd outstanding paragraphs in chapters I and II which, as may be recalled, deal with "Setting and objectives" and "Policy framework, including means of implementation". These paragraphs are shepherded through the negotiations by what are called "facilitators", and all indications are that progress, albeit slowly, is being made in the completion.

Whether similar progress will be registered when the Group takes up chapter III is difficult to predict. As this chapter touches on United Nations reform issues as well as the delicate relationship between the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions, its contents are bound to receive close scrutiny. None the less, there appears to be a more positive mood pervading the Group than was the case at the end of its last meeting in September. If this spirit of cooperation can be maintained and be augmented with political will from all sides, then it should be possible for the Group to have an Agenda for Development ready for adoption by 4 April 1997 which is the last day of the only other session scheduled for the Group during this 51st General Assembly.

Johan Schölvinck, DPCEA

To Town, To Town

Desertification puts at risk the livelihoods of around one billion people in the drylands of over 100 countries, particularly in Africa but also in other regions. It leads to food insecurity, poverty, further wood and water shortage, migrations and conflicts.

Papers presented at the Almeria symposium on Desertification and Migrations (organized by the government of Spain and the Interim Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 1994) found environmental causal factors characteristic of the drylands in almost half of the about 50 armed conflicts raging at that time.

People are forced to leave their land, their villages. They begin wandering within national boundaries, towards neighbouring countries or much further, towards countries far away from their homes. According to the United Nations Environmental programme (UNEP), a growing number of migrants come from regions affected by drought and desertification. It is estimated that over 135 million people may be at risk of being displaced as a consequence of severe desertification. The cost to society of such massive displacements of people can be huge both in financial and human terms because of consequent tensions at the social, political, and economic level.

Cities are the main recipients for desertification-induced migrants. From documents of the Habitat II conference we know that urbanization is one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the next millennium. Some long term studies on West Africa project a constant migratory flow from Sahelian regions to coastal cities. Urban population in the region would reach 271 million people in 2020 which represents 3.5 times the present numbers. Other studies estimate that about 60 million people from desertified areas will push north, into North African countries and onwards to the European shores. Cities are directly affected by the consequence of desertification not only in terms of migration flows: poverty in the countryside, agricultural shortages, water scarcity and pollution, combined with an unbalanced relation with the rural surroundings cannot but deeply affect urban living conditions and management. On the other side, cities can develop the tools to assist in the search for an answer to the challenge.

The Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) relies on the importance of a participatory approach. None of the single stakeholders involved in the problem - the State, the affected population, the international partners - can alone find a solution. On the contrary, true coordination among local people, municipal authorities, national governments, multinational organizations, international donors and non governmental organizations can make the process of combating desertification a success.

Cities represent a natural link between rural areas and national governments and they have the possibility to enforce policies that can make a change. Their consumption patterns, their trade links with the rural areas, their lobbying capacity in national governments, the power of decentralized cooperation and city-to-city mutual support: these are just few examples of the potential that lies in the hands of local authorities in the fight against desertification.

For these reasons the Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification proposes to address the challenge of desertification through a comprehensive and integrated response of society at large, including central and local authorities, NGOs and the international community. It advocates stronger decentralized cooperation and enlarged networks among local authorities. A number of initiatives involving local authorities and the CCD Secretariat have been planned for the year 1997: they will aim at identifying the most appropriate activities and tools to build the necessary partnership to support the struggle of people in and from the drylands.

Sonia Filippazzi, INCD

The web site of the Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification is at:

Microcredit a Hope for African Poor

The Microcredit Summit took place in Washington, from 2 to 4 February 1997. Chaired by Her Excellency Sheik Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, it brought together about 2000 participants from over 100 countries to launch a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families, especially those headed by women, with credit for self-employment by the year 2005.

Participants were grouped into councils of heads of state and government, representatives of the United Nations system, practitioners, non-governmental organizations, religious institutions, and advocates, to which OSCAL belongs. Among the participants from Africa were the President of Uganda, Yoweri H. Museveni, and the President of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konare. During the Summit, plenary sessions, where important statements were made in support of the concept of microcredit, alternated with meetings of Councils, where strategies were discussed, and workshops, where experiences were exchanged among participants.

There were no negotiations, contrary to the practice at United Nations meetings. Instead, a Declaration of Support was signed by each participant as a commitment to support the movement. Microcredit, microfinance and microbusiness were considered important tools for poverty eradication. Referring to Africa, President Museveni indicated that low returns on agriculture, land fragmentation, isolation of farmers, lack of processing of agricultural products, limited markets and lack of education and skills are the main reasons why rural population remained poor.

Immediately after the Microcredit Summit, a one-day meeting entitled "Africa Advocacy Forum: Microcredit and Poverty Eradication," was organized on 6 February 1997 at United Nations Headquarters. African practitioners, representatives of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations discussed how improving access to credit could help empower Africa’s poor, particularly women, to become more active participants in the development process, thereby freeing themselves from poverty.

The meeting, was co-sponsored by several United Nations agencies and divisions, including the Office of the Special Coordinator for Africa and the Least Developed Countries, the Division for the Advancement of Women, and the Division for Social Policy and Development, all in DPCSD, the Department for Development Support and Management Services, UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, UNFPA, UNCDF, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation as well as a number of other NGOs.

The Forum, which was organized as part of the follow-up process to the Mid-term Review of the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s, stressed the use of microcredit as an essential instrument, but not a panacea for poverty eradication in Africa. Tribute was paid to the emphasis the United Nations and its agencies, as well as NGOs, are placing on microcredit as an important element of the strategy for poverty eradication in Africa. Five topics related to important aspects of such strategy were addressed:

  • links between microcredit and food security;
  • women’s economic empowerment;
  • provision of basic social services;
  • employment/self employment; and
  • traditional banking systems.
Among the lessons derived from the Forum were the need to publicize African micro lending success stories based on "Tontines and Esusu." The need to strengthen the alliance of practitioners and representatives of public and private sectors, and transform them into advocates of poverty eradication using microcredit as a tool, was also emphasized. There was a consensus that microcredit can be the first step for poor people, mostly women, to gain access to conventional banking structures. But a strong message also emerged that microcredit could not be the only solution to Africa’s problems. Finally, participants recommended that the advocacy for microcredit should move to the field and asked United Nations agencies to continue to work together on this issue in the field, in the same way as they had done at Headquarters, as demonstrated during the Forum.

Ruth Engo, OSCAL

Fewer Countries on LDCs List

The Committee for Development Planning's (CDP) Working Group on Least Developed Countries met at Headquarters from 22 to 24 January to conduct the triennial review of the official list of least developed countries. This list, currently including 48 countries, is used by the UN, other international organizations and bilateral donors as a guide for allocating development assistance.

Based on a detailed review of economic and social development indicators for developing countries, the Working Group recommended that Vanuatu be graduated from the list immediately, as recommended by the 1994 review, and that the Maldives and Cape Verde be graduated at the next review (2000), subject to confirmation at that time. 45 least developed countries were recommended for retention on the list, and no additions to the list were recommended. These recommendations, if approved by the CDP in May, ECOSOC in July, and the General Assembly in the fall, would reduce the list to 47 countries this year and to 45 countries in 2000. While one country has previously graduated from the list, Botswana in 1994, Angola and Eritrea were added at the same time, increasing the list from 47 to 48 countries. This would therefore be the first time the number of countries on the list has declined. The list began in 1971 with 24 countries. The criteria for inclusion represent economic and social obstacles to development, including per capita GDP, life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment, per capita food supply, industrial employment, manufacturing, electricity consumption and export concentration.

The Working Group also recommended a review of the criteria for the designation of least developed countries before the next triennial review and requested an updated review of the benefits that countries derive from inclusion on the list, to be prepared for the May meeting of the Committee.

Ralph Chipman, DSD

INCD 10 Suspends Session

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an International Convention to Combat Desertification, after two-weeks of protracted negotiations in January, could not agree on a number of issues relating to the Global Mechanism, such as whether it could be proactive, have any possibility of having projects of its own, or what were the resources that will be available to it. The Committee agreed to reconvene in Geneva from 18 to 22 August.

The Global mechanism was established by the Convention to mobilise and channel financial resources for the execution of projects under the treaty.

In other action, the INCD began consideration of measures taken in Africa and other regions to implement the treaty; a number of African States outlined activities they were undertaking to arrest degradation and appealed for multilateral assistance in drawing up national action programmes.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification was formally adopted on 17 June 1994, and came into force on 26 December 1996. It had been signed by 115 countries and ratified by 62 States.

In an innovative approach, the Convention recognizes the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of desertification. It also recognizes the importance of redirecting technology transfer so that it is demand-driven; and the importance of local involvement in the preparation of national programmes.

Secretary-General Appoints Senior Officials

Nitin Desai (India) and Angela King (Jamaica) of DPCSD were among the senior officials appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in late January to lead the organization. Mr. Desai was reappointed Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development; Ms. King was promoted Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General; she will chair the Inter-Agency Committee on Women and Gender and Equality and will continue to head the Division for the Advancement of Women.

The Secretary-General's appointments were based on the need to bring new talent into the Organisation, the need to recognise performance by promoting staff from within the Secretariat, and the need to retain competent and experienced people to ensure continuity.

The Secretary-General re-appointed the following officials as Under-Secretaries-General, besides Mr. Desai: Yongjian Jin (China) Department of Development Support and Management Services (DDSMS), Yasushi Akashi (Japan) Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), Joseph Connor (USA) Department of Administration and Management (DAM), Hans Correll (Sweden) Office of Legal Affairs (OLA).

New appointees at the Under-Secretary-General level include Bernard Miyet (France) Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO), Sir Kieran Prendergast (UK) Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Iqbal Riza (Pakistan) Chef de Cabinet.

Re-appointments at the Assistant Secretary-General level are Alvaro de Soto (Peru) Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Manfred Eisele (Germany) Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO), Denis Halliday (Ireland) Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), Samir Sanbar (Lebanon) Department of Public Information (DPI), Benon Sevan (Cyprus) Office of Conference and Support Services (OCSS), Jean-Claude Aime (Haiti) UN Compensation Commission (UNCC).

The new appointments at the Assistant Secretary-General level include, besides Ms. King, Hedi Annabi (Tunisia) Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO), Jean-Pierre Halbwachs (Mauritius), Controller, Gillian Sorensen (USA), External Relations.

The Secretary-General accepted the resignations of several senior officials and had conveyed to them his deep appreciation for their services to the United Nations. The officials are: Rosario Green, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Ismat Kittani, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General; Jean-Claude Milleron, Under-Secretary-General in the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis (DESIPA), Joseph Reed, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Public Affairs, Yukio Takasu, Assistant Secretary-General, Controller.

In a separate action, the Secretary-General appointed Maurice Strong of Canada as a senior adviser on United Nations reform issues. Mr. Strong will assist the Secretary-General in coordinating the effort to redesign the world organisation for the future within financial limits that all Member States can support.

New Web Page Devoted to Agenda 21 Review

A home page for the General Assembly Special Session to review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21 has been posted as part of the DPCSD web site.

It can be accessed at:

The page will provide access to all official and background documents of the Special Session, the process leading to it, (see KIOSK, vol.3, no.6) and related information.


New York, 10-21 February 1997
Ad Hoc Open-Ended Intergovernmental Panel on Forests,
Fourth Session

New York, 10-21 February 1997
Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly
on an Agenda for Development

New York, 12-13 February 1997
Consultative Committee on UNIFEM,
Thirty-eighth Session

New York, 18 February 1997
Meeting of States Parties to the Convention
on the Rights of the Child

New York, 24-28 February 1997
Commission on Population and Development,
Thirtieth Session

New York, 24 February-7 March 1997
CSD Ad Hoc Intersessional Working Group

Bonn, 24 February-7 March 1997
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice,
Fifth Session

Bonn, 24 February-7 March 1997
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Subsidiary Body for Implementation,
Fifth Session

Bonn, 24 February-7 March 1997
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Ad Hoc Group on Article 13,
Fourth Session

Bonn, 24 February-7 March 1997
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate,
Sixth Session

New York, 25 February-6 March 1997
Commission for Social Development

Geneva, February-March 1997
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

New York, 10-21 March 1997
Commission on the Status of Women,
Forty-first Session

Geneva, 10 March-18 April 1997
Commission on Human Rights,
Fifty-third Session

New York, 17-21 March 1997
Human Rights Committee - Working Group on Communications

New York, 24 March-11 April 1997
Human Rights Committee,
Fifty-ninth Session

New York, 31 March-4 April 1997
Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group of the General Assembly
on an Agenda for Development

New York, 7-25 April 1997
Commission on Sustainable Development,
Fifth Session