|Environmentally-Induced Population Displacements and Environmental Impacts Resulting from Mass Migrations (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) / Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR), 1996, 128 p.)|
|Extracts of Main Contributions|
DESERTIFICATION, ENVIRONMENTAL MIGRATIONS AND CONFLICTS
Grégoire von Kalbermatten
The elaboration of the UN Convention to Combat Drought and Desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, is meant to bring about a sort of New Deal between members of the international community, development practitioners and local population to reverse land degradation in arid land.
At present, the number of signatories has reached 115, and 29 countries have ratified. Gathering the statutory 50 ratification for the Convention to enter into force will be achieved within the year. In other words the first Conference of the Parties will take place in 1997.
Today, over 1 billion people are at risks of desertification and some 70% of the 5200 million hectares of dryland used for agriculture around the world are already degraded. Thus 30% of the Earths land surface is affected by the degradation of fragile drylands. And this at time the Director General of FAO reminds us that world food production will have to increase by more than 75 over the next 30 years to keep pace with population growth. UNEP estimates that desertification costs the world $ 42 billion a year. We must recognize that there is much more to desertification than the containment of moving sand dunes. It is difficult to grasp the full impact of the loss of the agro-ecological balance in arid lands but is it safe to say that desertification reduces the lands resilience to natural climate variability, that it undermines food production and contributes to famine, that it deeply affects the socio-economic conditions of the local population, thereby triggering a vicious cycle of poverty, ecological degradation, migrations and conflicts. The impact of consequent hardships and erosion of cultural integrity cannot be over emphasized. It is estimated that over 135 million people may be at risk of being displaced as a consequence of severe desertification. For instance, the Almeria Symposium organized by the Government of Spain and this Secretariat in February 1994, explored a few key relationships such as the relationship between desertification, migration and urbanization or desertification, migrations and conflicts.
The Conference Habitat II which will take place in Istanbul by the beginning of June 1996 focuses on urban development as the major challenge for sustainable development in the next millennium. Desertification feeds the cities. For example, between 1965 and 1988, the population of Nouakchott, Mauritanias capital, rose from 9 to 41% while the proportion of nomads fell from 73 to 7%. Nomads do not make happy slum dwellers. Some long term perspectives for West Africa project a constant migratory flow from Sahelian regions to coastal cities. Urban population in the region will reach 271 million people in 2020 which represents 3.5 time the present numbers. Some other studies estimate that about 60 million people from desertified areas will push towards the North, into Arab North African countries or the European shores, with a consequent disruption of socio-economic stability there. In short we may say that desertifications downstream impacts spread far beyond the drylands. While the above examples relate to Africa we must not forget that nearly half the population affected by desertification lives in China, with another potential for migrations on a phenomenal scale should the Conventions implementation in that country turn out to be a failure. One might describe this Convention in various manners. It is the first significant multilateral instrument to be adopted after the Rio Earth summit. It integrates environment protection with a more sustainable and human development. It balances the interests of the North and the South in meeting the expectations of the latter with respect to the global management of natural resources. It provides donor countries with an enhanced convergence of operational policies and the needed framework for integrated strategic planning. It identifies the primacy of the fight against poverty to restore degraded land. Without pretending to innovate in the technical aspects of the combat against desertification, the Convention draws the -sometimes bitter- lessons of pas experiences to propose another of managing natural resources. In a sense, the Convention is probably the first legally binding international instrument which replaces so clearly the notion of Aid with one of partnership. This partnership, of course, associates the government, the NGOs and the local communities with the international donors. We can summarize it in one sentence: no partnership in the outcome without a partnership in the process.
Environmental migration results form a combination of pull and push factors. Clearly, it is not going to be possible to implement local area development programmes in the 40,000 territories of the CILSS countries. But local area efforts under the Convention will contribute to stem the push factors. They are an essential part of a comprehensive response to the problem of mass displacement of people from arid lands. As such, they must receive due attention from developed country Parties to the Convention and all countries concerned with the issue of environmental migration in the twenty first century. If this Convention is ignored, it will be at everybodys cost.