10 February 2005

Executive Director of UNODC Awarded Honorary Degree for Protecting Environment

VIENNA, 10 February (UN Information Service) -- On 4 February, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was awarded an Honorary Degree in Environmental Engineering  (Honoris causa en Ingenieria ambiental)  by the University of Magdalena, Santa Marta, Colombia. Carlos Eduardo Caicedo, Dean, University of Magdalena, presented the award to Mr. Costa, who accepted on behalf of UNODC.

Mr. Costa was recognized for his outstanding contribution in the fight against drugs and crime, and his accompanying concern for the environment. While Mr. Costa supports initiatives to eliminate drug cultivation, he believes these efforts should take place within the larger context of proper planning and protection of the world’s ecosystems, as mandated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

“We cannot eliminate one threat and create another in the form of environmental disaster,” said Mr. Costa. “We have a responsibility to the generations who come after us, not just to rid the world of drugs, but to do it in ways that leave the environment unscarred. If we destroy the land on which drug crops are cultivated, or on which they grow in the wild, we’re defeating our goal, which is to create prosperity and opportunity for present and future generations who depend on farming for their livelihood.”

The production of coca leaf and subsistence agricultural practices have caused extensive deforestation in Colombia. As the fertility of soils diminishes, small farmers typically cut and burn new parcels of primary or secondary forest, instead of applying more sustainable agricultural practices or investing in agricultural inputs. As a result, Colombia is experiencing a rapid environmental degradation of its rich and diverse ecosystems.

UNODC’s work has been recognized as a leading agent for environmental recovery. The UNODC project in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was designed to teach the indigenous population to manage their farming systems properly. The University of Magdalena regards UNODC as a strategic ally in its campaign for a proper land-use plan for the protection of an ecosystem which is home to a wide variety of endemic species. UNODC's monitoring system has discovered 759 hectares of coca in Sierra  Nevada de Santa Marta; 216 hectares were discovered in protected areas. Without UNODC’s assistance, the coca crop and its processing into cocaine would have caused irreparable damage to the environment. The contribution of UNODC’s Executive Director was also acknowledged by the indigenous communities inhabiting the zone -- Arhuaco, Wiwa, Kogui, and Kankuamo -- as an effort which reflected respect for their cultural traditions.

The ceremony marked the second time the Honorary Degree has been awarded by the University of Magdalena. The degree is given to individuals in recognition of outstanding achievements in the area of natural management of resources and environmental protection at the national and international level.  Recipients exemplify outstanding professional, scientific and human excellence, and serve as ethical, moral and academic models for current and former students of the University of Magdalena.  Also present at the ceremony was Camilo Ruiz-Blanco, Director of Multilateral Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombia.

For more information, contact:

Kathleen Millar, Deputy Spokesperson, UNODC
Tel: (+43 1) 26060-5228, email: press@unodc.org