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Combating desertification in Latin America and the Caribbean

Although well known for its rain forests, Latin America and the Caribbean is actually about one-quarter desert and drylands (20,533,000 km2). The hyper-arid deserts of the Pacific coast stretch from southern Ecuador, the entire Peruvian shoreline and northern Chile. Further inland, at altitudes of 3,000-4,500 meters, high and dry plains (Altiplano) of the Andean mountains cover large areas of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. To the east of the Andes, an extensive arid region extends from Chaco‘s northern reaches in Paraguay to Patagonia in southern Argentina. Northeastern Brazil contains semi-arid zones dominated by tropical savannahs. Large parts of Colombia and Venezuela are highly degraded. In Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, there are arid zones, as erosion and water shortages are noticeably intensifying in the Eastern Caribbean. Most of Mexico is arid and semi-arid, mainly in the north. Land degradation and severe droughts make the Central American countries vulnerable to extreme events, delaying their sustainable development.
 
Poverty and pressure on land resources are causing land degradation in many of these areas. A region with 465 million inhabitants, around 110 million live below the poverty line.
 
The Convention to Combat Desertification has strong political support. All countries in the region have already joined the Convention and its issues are becoming part and parcel of the national agendas on sustainable development and combating poverty. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have organized efforts through the International network of NGOs, RIOD (Réseau Internationale d‘Organisations Non Gouvernementales sur la Désertification). The network has four subregional focal points and one regional focal point. While RIOD‘s contribution is important, more needs to be done to attract NGO participation at the national, subregional, and regional levels.
 
The Regional Annex for Latin America and the Caribbean strongly emphasizes the need for sustainable development. Unsustainable practices include excessive irrigation and inappropriate agricultural practices, inadequate legal issues, inappropriate use of soil, fertilizers and pesticides, overgrazing, and intensive exploitation of forests. Frequent droughts and forest fires along with these practices lead to land degradation. Indeed, the sharp losses of ecosystem productivity reduce overall economic productivity and livelihoods.
 
National Action Programmes (NAPs) have been formulated in most countries of the region; the bottom-to-top process is being finalised with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society. Although this process benefits from the region‘s strong scientific resources, much remains to be done, however, at institutional and technical levels to increase and strengthen the capacities of a promising critical mass in the region that would allow effective progress and concrete achievements.
 
The Regional Action Programme (RAP) of March 1998 was assessed, reviewed and updated in 2003 for enhanced coordination of national efforts and synergies. The RAP includes six crosscutting thematic programme networks, on benchmarks and indicators, information (DESELAC), integrated water management, agroforestry, traditional knowledge and renewable sustainable energy. A Regional Unit (RCU) was established in Mexico City in the United Nations Economic Commission for LAC (ECLAC). The coordination level has been facilitated and further enhanced, aimed at, inter alia, promoting exchange of information and experiences; technical, scientific and financial collaboration, partnerships with cooperation agents as well as providing valuable feedback to activities and projects derived from NAPs, SRAPs and the RAP.
 
Several subregional programmes have also been launched and further implemented. The SRAP of Gran Chaco Americano (Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay) is implementing sound actions on socio-economics and environmental degradation. The SRAP for Puna Americana, (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru) has become an important tool to link NAP processes at the sub-regional level, while promoting sustainable development, also through awareness raising and increased stakeholder participation in related processes. The SRAPs of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Colombia and Venezuela, have shown progress, one in the trans-boundary area and both in institutional cooperation; strengthening of these actions is underway. Concerning the Caribbean, protection of biodiversity, actions and assessment of land degradation, partnership building, and awareness of sustainability of such ecosystems are centre stage. The Mesoamerican countries are jointly aiming to further cooperation efforts on land degradation and drought.
 
Relevant parts of the Convention: Annex III: Regional Implementation Annex for Latin America and the Caribbean

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