Algiers/Nairobi, 12 February 2006 – For the first time the official celebrations of World Environment Day (WED) will be held in North Africa. At a press conference in Algiers, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that the city would host the official celebrations. This year's theme is Deserts and Desertification.
His Excellency Chérif Rahmani, the Algerian Minister of Environment who is also honorary UN spokesman for the International Year of Deserts and Desertification said: "My country, Algeria, feels honoured to have been chosen by UNEP as the host country for this Day. We feel doubly honoured: first because the majority of our territory is made up of deserts; and second, because by honouring Algeria, all of Africa is honoured."
The UN General Assembly has designated the year 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. In keeping with tradition, UNEP has chosen the theme for World Environment Day to coincide with the International Year in order to highlight this pressing environmental issue.
According to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "Drylands are found in all regions, cover more than 40 per cent of the Earth and are home to nearly 2 billion people – one-third of the world’s population. For most dryland dwellers, life is hard and the future often precarious. They live on the ecological, economic and social margins. It is essential that we do not neglect them or the fragile habitats on which they depend."
Desertification is about land degradation: the loss of the land’s biological productivity, caused by human-induced factors and climate change. It affects one third of the earth’s surface and over a billion people. Moreover, it has potentially devastating consequences in terms of social and economic costs.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said: "Land is – next to water and air – the very base of all life. But unlike air and water which can be cleaned up and rehabilitated, once soils are lost it can take millennia for nature to recreate them. Human-induced land degradation now affects all continents and needs to be addressed urgently. It is appropriate that attention should focus on North Africa when we speak of the devastating effects of desertification."
Speaking at a joint press conference with UNEP's Director of Communications Eric Falt, Minister Rahmani said: "A large portion of Algeria – the second largest country in Africa after Sudan – is covered by the sands of the world's largest desert – the Sahara. Like many of its neighboring countries, Algeria is plagued by soil erosion from over-grazing, and by drought and desertification."
World Environment Day, commemorated each year on 5 June, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action.
The day's agenda is to give a human face to environmental issues; empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future. World Environment Day is also a people's event with colourful activities such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, essays and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, as well as recycling and clean-up campaigns.
For more information, please see the website http://www.unep.org/wed/2006 or contact
Eric Falt, Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: +254 20 762 3292; Mobile: +254 733 682 656, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 762 3084; Mobile: +254 733 632 755, E-mail: email@example.com
If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: 254 20 762 3088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 2006/11