17 September 2003


(Delayed in transmission.)

NEW YORK, 16 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Havana, on 1 September, delivered by Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General:

At the Millennium Summit three years ago, the international community committed itself to halving by the year 2015 the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger.  In Johannesburg two years later, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, world leaders underlined the crucial importance of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in efforts to fight rural poverty and ensure food security.  They agreed to work for more effective implementation of the Convention as a way to address the causes and impact of desertification and land degradation, as well as the poverty resulting from them.  In this way, they recognized the Convention as an important tool not only for improving the livelihoods of the millions of people living in dry lands, but also for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The Convention is of particular importance to the countries of Africa.  On their part, African leaders are making the environment one of the priority areas of the programme for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

This Conference takes place after yet another most welcome development in the Convention process -- the commitment by the international community to provide financial support to ensure its timely implementation.  The willingness of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to serve as a financial mechanism of the Convention, as well as the GEF Assembly’s decision to make land degradation a separate GEF focal area, are significant breakthroughs.  I am also pleased to note that the number of Parties has risen to 190, making the Convention the most broad-based multilateral treaty in the area of sustainable development.

We should bear in mind that almost 1 billion people are threatened, in their very existence, by desertification and recurrent droughts.  Most of them live in rural areas, where they draw their meagre livelihoods from agriculture and other rural activities.  Therefore, we need to start implementing action programmes against desertification without further delay.

It is my hope that you will adopt an action-oriented strategy to reverse desertification.  Allow me to thank the Government of Cuba for its steadfast commitment to the Convention process, as demonstrated in the comprehensive preparations for this Conference.  My colleagues and I will do all we can to support the Parties in their continuing efforts, and wish you every success in your deliberations.


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