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The Treaties - 28 - Treaty Regarding Arid and Semi-Arid Zones


1. Arid and semi-arid zones comprise a group of complex natural areas distributed in various locations throughout the planet. While maintaining the identifying characteristics that distinguish them from other ecosystems, there is still great diversity within the category.

2. Arid and semi-arid zones must be considered in terms of their complementary interrelations with other ecological zones of the planet.

3. Arid and semi-arid zones exhibit a natural and cultural potential for sustainable development - biodiversity, biomass, water, soil, etc.

4. In spite of this existing potential, these zones have suffered an accelerated process of social and environmental degradation in the past decades, the principal causes of which are:

    a. The increasing adoption of the "Green Revolution" technology package, particularly agriculture using modern irrigation techniques

    b. The construction of large dams, resulting in the permanent flooding of land and the relocation of local populations

    c. The refusal of the emergent social and economic powers to accept traditional systems of production - excessive ranching and pastoral activities; increasing pressure on the land in small peasant and tribal communities; accelerated deforestation; and soil degradation reinforcing the processes of erosion and desertification

    d. Population growth is causing the over-exploitation of natural resources in some regions; while in other cases the low population density is permitting the degradation of cultivated ecosystems through the lack of adequate upkeep

    e. Unequal access to natural resources - land, water, biomass.

5. The rapid degradation of natural resources and the alteration of water systems in these regions has made the reduction in food production indices more visible. This in turn has put even more pressure on these resources, and accordingly local communities then attempt to compensate for the drop in production by intensifying their use of the natural resources, disregarding the natural cycles of recuperation of the ecosystem.

6. These problems, linked to global climate change, produce local climate alterations which manifest themselves in hotter and prolonged dry seasons and the occurrence of more intense and frequent droughts.

7. Desertification is another facet of this problem; it affects 1/6 (one-sixth) of the world's population and close to 3.6 billion hectares of land.

8. This desertification process provokes increases in rural poverty and accelerates migration to the cities. Conversely, the swelling cities augment the pressure on natural resources - wood, water, etc. - and thus a vicious circle is created that further accelerates the degradation of the ecosystems and the processes of desertification.

9. Politics and public works in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Third World have historically assumed the character of emergency treatment of drought and hunger, without confronting structural problems, such as access to land and water; this contributes to the perpetuation of structures which are socially unjust and which degrade the environment.

Principles for an Alternative Method

10. Arid and semi-arid zones are complex ecosystems with natural potential sufficient to provide a good quality of life for their populations, if the development approach adopted is socially just, ecologically sustainable, culturally appropriate and based on a holistic vision of science and nature.

11. The development of these zones, planned and executed considering their own potential and specifications, must be intimately related to the development of the other zones of the earth, affirming a principle of solidarity among populations from areas that are ecologically different.

12. The governments of different countries need to exercise cooperation and solidarity in order to surmount the present problems of these zones.

13. The effective participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), of social movements and of the populations directly involved is indispensable in all stages of sustainable development, i.e. the diagnosis of problems and potentials, the definition of objectives and methods, the approval, implementation and follow-up of projects and programs, and the evaluation of socio-economic, cultural and environmental impacts.

14. The quality of life of human beings and the preservation, conservation and restoration of the environment of these zones must come before the interests of economic corporations and dominant political groups. Drought, hunger, desertification and other problems of these zones should not be used as instruments of international blackmail for the perpetuation of economic and political power for a few elite groups.

15. To support sustainable development, those working for the economic incorporation of arid and semi-arid zones should:

    a. seek food self sufficiency on a regional scale

    b. give priority to the exchange of local products between areas with production surpluses and those with deficits

    c. avoid the use of resources at levels that would continue to reproduce the same social, economic and environmental conditions.

16. In these zones the social and environmental costs must be analyzed and seriously considered in the evaluation procedures for all development projects, especially large scale projects like dams or irrigation.

17. A general redefinition of economic indicators is necessary in order to redirect the political economy of these zones towards food production destined for the needs of the impoverished populations.

Plan of Action

18. NGOs and social movements commit themselves to realizing the following actions relating to arid and semi-arid zones:

    a. Extend and refine plans for reflection and action in relation to the problematic of these zones, seeking the most effective diffusion and adoption of plans based on experiences in sustainable development

    b. Establish mechanisms and structures of scientific, technical and financial cooperation with the objective of making this plan of action viable

    c. Intensify, extend and improve the exchange of information, knowledge, experience and technology that is socially just, ecologically sustainable, culturally appropriate and based on a holistic vision of science and nature

    d. Plan and implement environmental education schemes that affirm the ecological, economic and cultural potentials of these zones

    e. Participate effectively in the processes of discussion, definition and follow-up on public works at the local, national and international level

    f. Seek significant media coverage for campaigns which work for the population of these zones and clarify their principal social and environmental problems and the solutions that already exist

    g. Support and develop concrete actions forward the democratization of access, use and conservation of natural resources - land, water and biomass - promoting agreements on the rational use of these resources in areas where conflicts exist between local communities

    h. Reinforce the struggle for agrarian reform in regions where ownership of land is concentrated in the hands of the few

    i. Develop initiatives, projects and campaigns for the preservation of genetic resources and biodiversity as well as against the private appropriation of genetic capital through the patenting of living things, or any other form of monopolistic control

19. NGOs and Social movements will strive to make local, national and international officials adopt the following measures for arid and semi-arid zones:

    a. The development of public education: eradicating illiteracy while considering the traditional knowledge and socio-cultural organization, including the modes of production, of each locale; and integrating environmental concerns into the conventional disciplines

    b. The democratization of government information on the realities of the social and environmental situation as well as on the public works relating to environment and development in these regions

    c. The restructuring and integration of education research, outreach and rural communication in accordance with the social, cultural and environmental necessities

    d. The democratization of government programs to facilitate access, use and conservation of natural resources - principally land, water and biomass - to favor peasants and traditional, indigenous and tribal communities

    e. The achievement of agrarian reform in countries where land ownership is in the hands of the few, incorporating the politics of credit, technical assistance and efficient, adequate commercialization with the social, economic, cultural and environmental conditions of each region

    f. The adoption of the principle that genetic resources are the cultural inheritance of the peasants and the traditional, indigenous and tribal communities; and the creation of rigorous legislation, which guards against any form of private, monopolistic appropriation of genetic capital

    g. The definition of a political platform to support the dry regions, keeping in mind agricultural, pastoral and forest activities; and a restructuring of irrigated agriculture from the perspective of the integrated and sustainable use of natural resources

    h. The reorientation of agroindustrial politics in order to support small-scale production generated by the popular sectors, which provides incentive for local and regional development

    i. The reorientation of industrial politics in a manner that will consider only non-polluting industries and economic and social services that create employment opportunities and an improvement in the quality of life

    j. The reorientation of the political framework to promote the development of useful and artistic handicrafts in the local populations through the creation of nature reserves to guarantee the essential products and primary materials for the craft-work; in this way ensuring the preservation of popular art and culture and fortifying the local and regional economy

    k. The adoption of the concept and practice of participatory agro-ecology, avoiding the subordination of farmers under the conventional systems of rural development

    l. The effective diagnosis, evaluation and monitoring of all projects that could cause environmental, social or cultural degradation on a local and more widespread scale

    m. A guarantee that the local populations, NGOs and social movements will have space to negotiate on projects, programs, financial resources, etc

    n. The implementation of warning systems to prevent the consequences of climate change, over-utilization of resources, dislocation of populations and the resulting conflicts

    o. The creation of a fund, the specific purpose of which will be to support the restoration of natural resources in degraded areas, in order to make the activities of local populations viable, guaranteeing the principle of popular participation

20. The following are mechanisms which will accompany this plan of action for arid and semi-arid zones:

    a. Formation of a consortium of NGOs and social movements which will be active in the arid and semi-arid zones on the local, national and international level

    b. Creation of mechanisms of communication, using computer networks, interpersonal communication, informational bulletins, workshops and conferences at the local, national and international levels

    c. Establishment of specific coordination centres for each region which will function as a point of reference for the reception and diffusion of information

    d. Development of criteria and methodologies for the evaluation of projects and public works directed toward these zones

    e. Monitoring the destination of public funds, and pressuring the international banks to do an international audit of all the projects they have financed, with the participation of NGOs, social movements and the populations involved at all levels

    f. Evaluation of the results obtained from this accord by the end of 1994.


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