THE CONVENTION TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION AND THE ROLE OF SOUTH AFRICA IN
THE GLOBAL CONTEXT
- by Ms
Wilma Lutsch, Deputy Director,
- Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism,
1 - BACKGROUND
The international community has long recognised that desertification is
a major economic, social and environmental problem of concern to many countries. The
efforts to combat desertification started in 1977, when the United Nations Conference on
Desertification adopted a Plan of Action to Combat Desertification. Unfortunately, the
problem of desertification intensified and, as a result, the Conference on Environment and
Development which was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, supported a new integrated approach
to the problem, emphasising action to promote sustainable development at the community
level. It also called on the UN General Assembly to establish an Intergovernmental
Negotiating Committee to prepare this Convention by June 1994.
South Africa was part of these negotiations since 1994 with the
readmittance of the country into the international arena. Realising the potential of this
Convention to social and economic upliftment of the inhabitants of this country, South
Africa decided to sign this Convention in January 1995 and the ratification thereof was
finally formalised on 30 September 1997. With these actions South Africa is now committed
to the Convention and reconfirms its devotion to responsible environmental management and
2 - DEFINITION AND EXTENT OF DESERTIFICATION
The Convention defines
desertification as land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid areas resulting
from various factors including climatic variations and human activities. Eventually the
land can no longer sustain crops or vegetation and loses its ability to produce food and
sustain life. (Land degradation occurs everywhere, but is only defined as desertification
when it occurs in the drylands).
Desertification is therefore not the expansion of existing deserts: it is the
destruction of productive land in dry areas mainly because of misuse or overuse. We are
not referring to slow natural processes, but to rapid degradation caused by people.
According to the Convention, arid, semi-arid and dry sub humid areas means areas, other
than polar and subpolar regions in which the ratio of annual precipitation to potential
evapotranspiration falls within the range from 0.05 to 0.065 43% of Africa falls into one
of these categories.
Land degradation is a big problem all over the world. Nowhere is the crisis more acute
than in the drylands which stretch across more than a third of the Earths land
surface. Some 70% of the drylands used for agriculture around the world is already
degraded. Thus desertification now damages almost 30% of the total areas of the world.
In South Africa the UN Environment Programme calculated that 90% of the country is arid,
semi arid or dry subhumid and is therefore prone to desertification in South Africa. A
recent study done by the National Botanical Institute suggests that land in 25% of
magisterial districts in South Africa is already severely degraded.
Land degradation is exacerbated by inequitable land ownership. As a result of the unjust
distribution of land resulting from previous discriminating policies, agricultural land in
the former homelands has been overgrazed and overcropped for decades and in many cases is
now degraded almost beyond repair. In addition, land tenure laws and practises in the
former homelands and townships and townships did not encourage people to conserve land
they did not have a stake in.
As a result of the loss of productive land which can no longer sustain the population,
people migrate to cities, contributing to the many social, economic and environmental
pressures facing urban areas. Estimates vary, but it may be assumed that more than half of
the population live in areas which are functionally urban. Continued rapid urban growth is
expected which impacts on valuable agricultural land. Present economic theory and practice
fails to reflect the impacts on valuable agricultural land. Present economic theory and
practice fails to reflect the impacts of resource and energy use by cities on the carrying
capacity of the land from which they draw their resources. The ecological footprint
approach is now well established as a method of understanding cities in relation to the
sustainable use of resources by humans. (Each individual in a city requires and consumes
resources such as wood, food, materials and fuel and water at a particular level. In
addition, there is also a need for an ecological system to dispose of wastes. When
transposed to a city level, and depending on its population, it can be calculated that
some cities require as much as 20 times their area for the provision of these resources).
Land degradation is both a cause and a consequence of poverty in the worlds most
arid countries. The key to restoring damaged lands, improving food security and making the
transition to sustainable agriculture and land management is to break the cycle where
poverty forces people to over-exploit their land just to survive another day. A recent
report on poverty in South Africa indicates that 19 million people, almost half of the
South African population can be regarded as poor (giving a monthly household expenditure
level of R353 per adult) of which the rural areas contain 72% of those members of the
total population who are poor. Women are clearly more likely to be poor than men: the
poverty among female-headed households is 60% compared with 31% of male-headed households.
In rural areas, land degradation is aggravated by the fact that more than 80% of
households have no access to piped water and sanitation and 74% of rural African
households needs to fetch water on a daily basis. Improvement of access to water is
naturally a critical component of programmes to strengthen the asset base of the rural
poor. Provision of dependable water can have a strong positive effect on food security and
income generation for rural women, substantial livelihood gains are likely by releasing
labour spent on obtaining water and providing water for small farming and other
Energy poverty is the condition of having less than a certain daily level of energy
consumption necessary to maintain a minimum standard of living. Energy is divided into
three sub sectors: electricity hydro carbon (including coal, gas and paraffin) and
bio-mass (wood dung and crop waste). In South Africa, most of the poor meet their energy
demands using bio-mass fuels, or a combination of bio-mass fuels and hydrocarbon fuels.
The task of collecting this has severe social and health costs which accrue primarily to
rural women and children and if the land is poor, these people cannot meet their energy
This Convention commits every government that signs it to draw up a national strategy to
deal with land degradation, to allocate sufficient funds to tackle the problem and
crucially to consult local people before any decisions are taken. This Convention is the
only UN treaty that obliges governments to involve local people in solving national
3 - PRINCIPLES OF THE CONVENTION
principles of the Convention are:
3.1 Participation of local communities
principle of the treaty commits Parties to ensure that decisions on the design and
implementation of programmes are taken with the participation of populations and local
communities and that an enabling environment is created at higher levels to facilitate
action at national and local levels. It is this principle who guided the team to ensure
that the NGO community is fully represented and acts as a full member in the development
of a policy to combat desertification.
The second principle again
breaks new ground by stressing the need for international partnership and co-ordination
and improved co-operation and co-ordination at sub-regional, regional and international
level. Regarded as leader in Africa, much is expected from this country as far as the
combating of desertification is concerned. As a special Annex for Africa was negotiated,
being the continent who suffers most from this debilitating problem, South Africa has
forged close ties with sub-regional, regional and international role players.
3.3 Co-operation at all levels
Apart from the different
vertical levels of co-operation in global context, the horizontal co-operation among role
players within the country is of the utmost importance to secure the success of the
implementation of this Convention.
Therefore the third
principle of the treaty extends the concept of partnerships within the affected countries
and in doing so, re-emphasises the importance of ensuring the participation of people and
communities. It lays down that co-operation among all levels of government, communities,
non-governmental organisations and landholders should be promoted to establish a better
understanding of the nature and value of land and scarce water resources and to work
towards sustainable use.
3.4 Needs of developing countries
The fourth principle
says that the special needs and circumstances of affected developing countries should be
considered. We in South Africa have vast opportunities in this respect to cater for the
needs of the people formerly barred from decision-making processes, especially those in
4 - OBLIGATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
GENERAL (ART 4)
an integrated approach
The treaty also insists that programmes to combat desertification must not be conceived
and implemented in isolation but should be integrated into development policies as a
whole, addressing the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of the processes of
desertification and drought.
enabling international economic environment
The Convention makes it clear that Parties are obliged to give due attention to the
effects of trade, marketing arrangements and debt on the affected developing countries,
with a view to establishing an enabling international economic environment conducive to
the promotion of sustainable development.
integrate strategies for poverty eradication into efforts to combat desertification
Parties are obliged to integrate their anti desertification efforts with strategies for
co-operation among affected countries
The general obligations of the treaty stress the importance of co-operation within
intergovernmental organisations, at sub-regional, regional and international levels.
promote financial mechanisms to channel financial resources to affected countries.
Parties should promote the mobilisation of new and additional funding and encourage the
mobilisation of funding from the private sector and other non-governmental sources.
- OBLIGATIONS OF AFFECTED COUNTRY PARTIES (ART 5)
- OBLIGATIONS OF DEVELOPED COUNTRY PARTIES (ART 6)
- Developing country parties and those
that are affected have the following obligations:
- to allocate adequate resources in accordance with their circumstances and capabilities
- to establish strategies and priorities to combat desertification
- to address the underlying causes of desertification with special attention to the
socio-economic factors contributing to desertification
- to promote awareness and facilitate the participation of local populations
- to provide an enabling environment through laws, policies and programmes
- RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER CONVENTIONS (ART 8)
Parties shall encourage the
co-ordination of activities, particularly the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Parties shall encourage conduct
of joint programmes, particularly in the fields of research, training, systematic
observation and information collection and exchange.
- NATIONAL ACTION PROGRAMMES (NAPs) (ART 10)
- to support the efforts of developing
- to provide substantial financial resources, promote new and additional funding and
mobilise the funding
- to promote access to appropriate technology, knowledge and know-how.
SUB-REGIONAL AND REGIONAL ACTION PROGRAMMES (ART 11)
- According to the Convention, the
purpose of a NAP is to identify the factors contributing to desertification and practical
measures necessary to combat desertification. Parties should prepare, publicise and
implement them as the central element in their strategies.
- Keeping in mind Article 10 of the Convention, South Africa has, after the ratification
of the Convention, an obligation to develop a NAP. According to the Convention, a NAP
shall specify the respective roles of government, local communities and land users and the
resources available and needed. NAPs shall, inter alia:
- incorporate long term strategies to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of
drought, emphasizing implementation and be integrated with national policies for
Parties commit themselves
to provide for effective participation of everybody including farmers and pastoralists.
This theme runs right through the Convention. The African countries agree in their annex
that NAPS shall be a central and integral part of the broader process of formulating
policies for sustainable development and that sub-regional and regional action plans
should harmonise, complement and increase the efficiency of NAPs.
- SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL CO-OPERATION (ART 16)
The Parties agree to
co-ordinate the collection, analysis and exchange of data to better understand the effects
4.8 - RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT (ART 17)
The Parties agree to support research and development according to
their respective capabilities, through the promotion of technical and scientific
co-operation to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought.
4.9 - TRANSFER, ACQUISITION, ADAPTATION AND DEVELOPMENT
OF TECHNOLOGY (ART 18)
The Convention promotes
co-ordination of scientific and co-operation in the transfer of technology. Both are to be
redirected to meet the requirements of the people who most need it, with considerable
weight placed on the value of traditional knowledge and skills.
4.10 - CAPACITY BUILDING, EDUCATION AND PUBLIC AWARENESS
Action programme cannot be
effective, and the fight against desertification and the effects of drought cannot be won,
unless strong enough institutions exist to carry them out and the people understand
and support what is being done. So the Convention stresses the significance of capacity
building and of promoting public awareness.
- FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND MECHANISMS (ART 20 & 21)
Rather than setting up a single system of funding, the Convention
concentrates on mobilising resources through all existing channels, strengthening them and
re-orientating them to fits its integrated, bottom-up approach.
- INSTITUTIONS (ART 22-24)
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is established as the "supreme body" of
the Convention and its responsibility is to make the decisions necessary to promote
effective implementation of the Convention.
The Permanent Secretariat will make arrangements for sessions of the COP and its
subsidiary bodies and compile and transmit reports. It will also facilitate assistance to
developing country parties, particularly in Africa, to compile and communicate the
information required by the Convention.
The Committee on Science and Technology which will be composed of government
representatives who will survey the existing networks, institutions, agencies and bodies
and make recommendations on how to link them better.
The Roster of Independent Experts will give information and advice on specific issues
- PROCEDURES (ART 26-40)
These address issues
such as reporting, voting, the resolution of disputes etc.
5 - REGIONAL
IMPLEMENTATION ANNEX FOR AFRICA
This Annex provides for the efficient and practical implementation of the Convention to
address conditions specific to Africa, such as:
6 - SOUTH AFRICA IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT
In regional context,
our first allegiance is towards Africa, where this problem is aggravated by extreme
- The widespread poverty prevalent in most countries,
- The difficult socio-economic conditions, exacerbated by deteriorating and fluctuating
terms of trade, political instability which induce internal and regional and international
- The heavy reliance of populations on natural resources for subsistence insufficient
institutional and legal frameworks
- This annex concentrates to a large extent on the contents of the National Action
Programme as well as the Sub-regional Action Programmes and the technical assistance and
co-operation in this regard.
In sub-regional context, alliances have also been formed within the Southern Africa
Development Community (SADC), in conjunction with whom a Sub-regional action Programme is
being development, as well as conducting various other actions such as workshops on:
Early Warning Systems and the CCD
the integration of the Kalahari-Namib Action Plan into the NAP
the integration of gender concerns in the NAP process
the establishment of the Multidisciplinary Scientific and Technical Consultative
Committee (MSTCC) on the CCD, as well as to consider a programme of action and future at
hoc panels of the CCD, as well as to consider a programme of action and future activities
for the MSTCC in the combat of land degradation, desertification and drought in the SADC
region, with emphasis on research and development and transfer of technology.
Apart from its role in the region (Africa), South Africa is also the co-ordinator of the
CCD in the Valdivia countries, - a group of temperate southern hemisphere countries
(Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand- whose aim is
to promote and foster exchange of information on technical issues between these countries.
7 - CONCLUSION
This Convention is an
innovative document which breaks new ground in international environment law.
The CCD us a long term, integrated, multi-faceted, cross sectoral, overarching
development programme in accordance with Agenda 21, addressing social, institutional,
political, cultural, economic and environmental concerns.
Economically, this is a programme that has vast opportunities for job creation which
will result in the sustainable use of resources and the alleviation of poverty.
The gender component which is already in the process of being mainstreamed, provides
opportunities for development, education, upliftment and enhanced potential for income
generation, thereby reducing the poverty levels in the degraded areas.
The CCD adds value in the sense that possibilities are created for:
Policy harmonisation especially sectoral policies aimed at addressing poverty and
inequality and integrating them with the governments macro-economic framework to
ensure that poor people are not marginalised further, but brought into the economic
Exploration of innovative ways of
using natural resources in dealing with rural poverty
Strengthening of existing structures
by implementing and institutionalising policy reforms.
Building of capacity at the
provincial level to participate actively in national policy initiatives.
Improvement in effectiveness and
efficiency of human and financial resources
Creation of an integrated rural
This Convention can be regarded as one of the most successful models for sustainable
development, providing a better quality of life for millions of people all over the world.