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Combating desertification in Asia

Desertification manifests itself in many different forms across the vast Asian continent. Out of a total land area of 4.3 billion hectares, Asia contains some 1.7 billion hectares of arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid land reaching from the Mediterranean coast to the shores of the Pacific. Degraded areas include expanding deserts in China, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan, the sand dunes of Syria, the steeply eroded mountain slopes of Nepal, and the deforested and overgrazed highlands of the Lao People‘s Democratic Republic. Asia, in terms of the number of people affected by desertification and drought, is the most severely affected continent. To be fully effective, activities to combat desertification and drought need to be carefully tailored to the particular circumstances and needs of each country.
 
The Convention‘s Regional Implementation Annex for Asia recognizes these particular conditions. It calls for activities at the national, subregional, and regional level in the form of coordinated and integrated action programmes. The integration of activities directly related to the combat against desertification into other environmental and sustainable development strategies is meant to maximize the output and benefit for affected country Parties. Therefore, action at the local level should combine the fight against desertification with efforts to alleviate rural poverty.
 
The Asian and Pacific countries to have adopted their National Action Programmes (NAPs) are: China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, the Lao People‘s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palau, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The other affected developing countries in the Asia and Pacific region are at various stages of NAP formulation. The preparation of NAPs is a dynamic ongoing process and the status of each country is subject to change over time. The Convention‘s “bottomup” approach, whereby existing desertification programmes are reviewed by the stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local authorities, and community leaders, was generally adopted in formulating NAPs. Mainstreaming the NAPs in order to enhance their effective implementation is another important consideration in this regard.
 
As one of the major affected country Parties in Asia, China illustrates the need to make combating dryland degradation a long-term strategic goal in its NAP. It is estimated that some 27 percent of the country‘s land mass is desertified, with an average of 2,460 square kilometers of land being lost to advancing deserts each year. Nearly 400 million people live in these areas, and the economic loss to China has been estimated at around US$ 6.5 billion a year. China has responded to this environmental threat, which has serious socio-economic ramifications, by passing laws and drawing up a NAP. The NAP was formulated within the framework of the country‘s agenda 21 for sustainable development, an act to prevent and combat desertification was adopted in August 2001 and entered into force on 1 January 2002. Coordination is being stirred and maintained by the China National Committee to Implement the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCICCD), which has 18 ministries or government agencies as its members. CCICCD is supported by a permanent secretariat and three centres: a research centre, a monitoring centre, and a training centre. China has established four million ha plantations each year, most of which are aimed at land degradation control. Recently, the Government has taken the initiative of encouraging people to convert farmland (on steep slopes or marginal lands) back to forests, in order to reduce desertification.
 
Regional activities are being launched through Thematic Programme Networks (TPNs). Based on the principles contained in the Convention to Combat Desertification and its regional annex for Asia, a number of regional meetings introduced an approach that has become central to regional cooperation in Asia: the TPNs. Each network deals with one core aspect, which is either a cause or an effect of desertification, and aims at providing and promoting regional solutions through improved and innovative regional cooperation and exchange of information. The networks have evolved following the 1997 Beijing Ministerial Conference, the 1998 Muscat meeting and the 1997 Tashkent Conference. The implementation of the NAPs is advanced by the promotion of regional cooperation and capacity-building at national and subregional levels through the six TPNs adopted at the Beijing Ministerial Conference. These are Desertification monitoring and assessment (hosted by China and launched in July 1999), Agroforestry and soil conservation (hosted by India and launched in May 2000), Rangeland management and fixation of shifting sand dunes (hosted by Iran and launched in May 2001), Water resources management for arid-land agriculture (hosted by Syria and launched in July 2002), Strengthening capacities for drought impact mitigation and combating desertification (hosted by Mongolia and launched in July 2003), and Assistance for the implementation of integrated local area development programmes (LADPs) (hosted by Pakistan and launched in June 2004).
 
West Asian countries are implementing a subregional action programme (SRAP) to strengthen their activities under the Convention. In response to the subregion‘ s needs, West Asia-based organizations have formulated activities promoting intergovernmental cooperation within the subregion. The activities within the SRAP will focus on two main areas: water resources and vegetative cover. An operational structure was finalized and agreed at the Dubai meeting (February 2000).
 
All the Central Asian Countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) are affected or severely affected by drought and desertification. The main feature of the Central Asian subregion is that it comprises countries with very similar patterns of historical, economic and political development in the pre-independence (1991) period. Since the early 1990s, all countries of the subregion have been undergoing a process of radical socio-economic reforms, including democratization, decentralization, privatization, improved access to information for ordinary citizens, and land reforms, which have direct or indirect implications for environmental protection, including combating desertification. The transformation period has been accompanied in most countries by serious economic difficulties, which, in some cases, have been exacerbated by political disturbances. Despite these difficulties, the Central Asian countries have adopted measures that are conducive to the effective implementation of the Convention. The sub-regional project, such as this on the Aral Sea Basin (SRAP/ CD) reflects subregional cooperation for combating desertification and land degradation. Agreement was reached to start implementation of the SRAP/CD through organizing training courses for countries of the sub-region. Activities are being undertaken to start implementing national projects to combat desertification under the Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management.
 
East, Southeast, and South Asia has a very varied climate and contain much biological diversity. Nevertheless, the magnitude of soil erosion and the resulting loss of biodiversity and agricultural productivity are increasingly threatening both the ecological and the economic base of many countries. Concerted action is needed to halt the emerging trends. The 1996 Delhi Conference and the 1997 Beijing Ministerial Conference endorsed the principle of cooperation across climatically different regions in order to prevent further land degradation. South Asian Country Parties adopted SRAP in Sri Lanka in July 2004, and Southeast Asian Country Parties are expected to finalize and adopt SRAP after the seventh session of Conference of Parties (COP7). Many countries have expressed interest in organizing regional and subregional consultative meetings on the Asia-wide TPNs.
 
The 14 Pacific Country Parties are unique in their problems and the ways to address those problems. Drought preparedness, land productivity and vulnerability to natural disasters and economic shocks are the main issues confronting them in relation to sustainable development, including this Convention. The Pacific Island Workshop held in Apia, Samoa in May 2001 laid down the blueprint for developing a Pacific Island Initiative on agroforestry, water harvesting, land use monitoring, and early warning systems for drought forecasting. In view of their geographic isolation and the relatively small size of their economies, the countries at that meeting recommended the adoption of a subregional approach in the implementation of the Convention, together with national level activities.
 
Relevant parts of the Convention: Annex II: Regional Implementation Annex for Asia

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