Susan E. Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Business Briefing: UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Indian Treaty Room, The White House, Washington, DC, September 15, 1998

Released by the Bureau of African Affairs, September 15, 1998

Desertification in Africa and Ratification of the UN Convention

Thank you, David. Secretary Glickman, Ambassador Miller, Jim Moody, members of
the business community: It is a pleasure to talk with you this afternoon about
such a critical issue in Africa--desertification and the ratification of the
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. I know that Senator
Jeffords could not be here today, but I do thank him for all his work on this
issue and for sponsoring the Convention--a treaty to improve global efforts to
protect fragile drylands.

The degradation of drylands is just one of the many global environmental
problems facing the international community today. At the beginning of this
century, 50% of the world's ancient forests were still standing. But now our
grandchildren will inherit a world with less than 20% of those same forests. By
the year 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will be affected by water
shortages. And more importantly for Africa, half the people in the developing
world are suffering from water-related illnesses--25,000 of them die each day.
As many as eight plant species, some of which could hold the key for curing
deadly diseases like Madagascar's rosy periwinkle used to eradicate childhood
leukemia, are threatened by extinction.

Desertification affects millions of people inhabiting one-quarter of the world's
land area from the American west, to the Aral Sea in Russia, to Argentina, and
islands of the Caribbean and Indonesia. But desertification has the greatest
impact in Africa. More than two-thirds of the continent is desert or drylands,
and 73% of its agricultural drylands (over one billion hectares) are already
severely or moderately degraded.

United States leadership in multilateral environmental efforts is thus crucial.
With the international community, the U.S. has played a major role in
safeguarding the environment, and the earth has reaped the rewards and benefits.
Global environmental agreements and initiatives are sustaining our future,
protecting our biodiversity, preserving our natural resources, and ensuring a
healthier and cleaner world for the next generation of Americans. We should lead
the world community in designing strategies which safeguard our interests and
sustain human life.

The United States has strong interests in ratifying the Convention to Combat
Desertification. It is vitally important to Africa.

Prior to the President's unprecedented trip to the continent last spring,
Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti, on behalf of the African diplomatic corps,
urged the Administration to seek ratification of the Convention to Combat
Desertification. President Clinton agreed to work toward this goal with the help
of Senators Jeffords and Feingold. Indeed, one of this Administration's primary
policy objectives in Africa is to protect our citizens from threats that emanate
from the continent, including environmental degradation. The Convention will
serve as one preventive measure to protect the environment and uphold America's
national interests in the next century.

The Convention coordinates existing efforts to blunt the encroachment of the
world's deserts and to improve the use of the world's dwindling land and water
resources. Local communities will be responsible for developing "national action
plans" which encourage better resource management to combat desertification and
increase incomes. This unique "bottom-up" approach empowers communities in
planning and carrying out actions that will contribute to long-term sustainable
If the United States is a party to this Convention, our scientists and our
companies will be eligible to participate in "the global mechanism," which will
improve the use of development assistance through better coordination of
multilateral and bilateral efforts to combat desertification. At present, the
U.S. spends about $33 million annually on anti-desertification projects in
Africa and has invested about $500 million on ongoing and planned projects.

But we must take an even more proactive approach to better land and water
management globally. Containing the spread of desertification will increase
family incomes and encourage peace and security. As important, in affected areas
preventive strategies will result in significant savings in emergency assistance
for drought and famine relief. It also will decrease the political instability
caused by the migration of populations fleeing the results of desertification.
Today, there are millions of so-called "eco-migrants" who leave their homes
every year because of the creeping reach of the world's deserts and the
destruction of natural resources that once guaranteed jobs and a way of life.
The next famine could cost thousands of lives and millions of dollars in
emergency assistance.

In addition, there are significant opportunities for American business to
participate in anti-desertification projects sponsored by multilateral funding
agencies. Once the United States ratifies the Convention, our environmental
experts and companies will be listed on a roster of equipment manufacturers and
experts for land and water resource management. This is the list that will be
made available to funding agencies financing projects such as:

--A $12-million anti-desertification joint project in Senegal and Mauritania to
be co-financed by the African Development Bank, the United Nations Environmental
Program, and the Governments of Senegal and Mauritania.

--A $2.2 billion project to combat natural resource degradation from the World
Bank, for the period 1996-99.

--$6 million in United Nations Development Program projects through the United
Nations Office to Combat Desertification and an additional $75 million for
countries affected by desertification.

--$100 million in International Fund for Agricultural Development funds for
countries affected by desertification.

There is a direct relationship between sustainable management of African lands
and Africa's prosperity. Our aim, quite simply, is to assist Africa in realizing
its full political and economic potential. We have significant national
interests at stake. Africa's huge and relatively untapped market of 700 million
offers tremendous trade and investment opportunities for our companies. The
President's Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity in Africa, and the
companion legislation, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, are intended to
help spur economic growth in Africa, encourage increased economic reform, and
further increase U.S.-Africa commercial alliances. Our new economic relationship
with the African continent is based on mutual interests and benefits.

The President's and Secretary Albright's trips to Africa, and that of three
other cabinet secretaries--Treasury Secretary Rubin, Transportation Secretary
Slater, and Commerce Secretary Daley--underscore the importance we place on our
growing ties with Africa and to this new partnership with the continent. But
encouraging stability and economic growth in the region requires an
understanding of the importance of protecting Africa's fragile environment.

Africa will continue to face massive challenges in this regard: water shortages,
deforestation, loss of biodiversity, urban pollution, and especially
desertification. We cannot separate protection of Africa's environment and
natural resources from its potential for sustained economic health and
prosperity. Neither can we separate Africa's prosperity and development from
America's long-term global interests. The United Nations Convention to Combat
Desertification is thus in both the United States' and Africa's best interests.
We hope it will be ratified by the Senate. Thank you.

[end of document]

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