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Universal struggle

Abdelaziz Bouteflika
President, The Republic of Algeria

Desertification and land degradation are like climate change and biological diversity, major challenges for the 21st century. Indeed, they are even more complex because they are multidimensional phenomena underlain by diverse factors, especially climatic variations and human activities.

These phenomena have irreversible economic and social consequences. They deprive hundreds of millions of people of the land that nourishes them, thus creating additional sources of tension and exacerbating migrations. International responsibility is undoubtedly engaged in the fight against desertification, drought and land degradation. In fact, the universal struggle against them is an urgent burden on us all, since they lead to forced migrations and challenge social stability, moving us further away from the objectives of sustainable development.

The success of this struggle requires the implementation of the three conventions (on climate change, biodiversity and desertification) agreed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. This will also depend on the funding and green technologies that wealthy countries agree to make available to the least fortunate countries.

Africa is the hardest hit region. Numerous studies show that our continent will lose two-thirds of its arable land by 2025, in the absence of urgent and effective measures therefore destroying its efforts for both development and environmental protection.

The Millennium Declaration (2000), the Millennium Development Goals and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) offer us opportunities for effective management of the problems related to desertification and land degradation.

Very early, Algeria associated itself with multilateral efforts to negotiate and consolidate the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. She has brought in important measures aimed at fighting the effects of desertification and drought in arid and semi-arid areas within her own territory.

Major programmes, based on an appropriate institutional framework and covering 20 million hectares, have been put in place to combat desertification and land degradation, by using reforestation, rationalising use of grazing areas, raising awareness and mobilizing local authorities and citizens. The “green wall”, already covering an area of 300,000 hectares, will be expanded by 100,000 hectares by 2015.

And a new national map, based on remote sensing and creating awareness on desertification, has been developed to strengthen these efforts.

Moreover, the fight against desertifi- cation should also be combined with improved understanding of deserts, both as complete ecosystems and as specific sites for sustainable development, due to the natural resources and unique biodiversity they contain. Their value for human settlements and their invaluable cultural richness also demand such recognition.

Southern Algeria is home to two huge national parks in the midst of the Sahara at the Ahaggar and the Tassili. These open-air museums, part of world heritage, cover a total area of 452,000 square kilometers. An important project for preserving the biodiversity and cultural heritage is under way with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It is increasingly essential to develop an integrated international strategy for the protection of our planet. In this precise case, the commitment of the international community should be up to the challenges that we are facing.

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