Statement by Matthew Kahane on the occasion of World Environment Day

Jun 5, 2006

World Environment Day
5 June 2006
Speech for Matthew Kahane

Hon’ble Ministers, Secretary, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his statement earlier today, this year’s theme—Don’t Desert Drylands—reminds us all of the importance of caring for the world’s vast areas of arid and semiarid land.

Drylands are found in all regions. They cover more than 40 per cent of the Earth and are home to one-third of the world’s population. For most dryland dwellers, life is hard and the future often precarious.  They live on the ecological, economic and social margins.  It is essential that we do not neglect them or the fragile habitats on which they depend.

Nepal is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking drylands namely: parts of Dolpa, Mustang and Manang. The thousands of people, who live in these beautiful but arid places, rely on subsistence crops and livestock to make ends meet. Yet, the landscape is so fragile in these areas that we are already seeing early signs of desertification caused by over cultivation and over grazing.

This disturbing trend is repeated across the planet. Poverty, unsustainable land management and climate change are turning drylands into deserts, and desertification in turn exacerbates and leads to poverty.

Globally, it is estimated, that between 10 and 20 per cent of drylands are already degraded.  The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where dryland degradation is a serious obstacle to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and is jeopardizing efforts to ensure environmental sustainability.

There is also mounting evidence that dryland degradation and competition over increasingly scarce resources can bring communities into conflict.  Furthermore, people whose livelihoods and survival depend on drylands are swelling the ranks of environmental and economic refugees who are testing the already stretched resources of towns and cities across the developing world.

Desertification is hard to reverse, but it can be prevented.  Protecting and restoring drylands will not only relieve the growing burden on the world’s urban areas, it will contribute to a more peaceful and secure world.  It will also help to preserve landscapes and cultures that date back to the dawn of civilization and are an essential part of our cultural heritage.

On this World Environment Day, in the 10th anniversary year of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, I urge the Government of Nepal to fulfil the decision made last year, namely, to reinvest 60 percent of the revenue earned from tourism to Upper Mustang into a locally managed conservation plan.

The Upper Mustang Area Conservation Management Plan is critical for developing alternative income opportunities such as sustainable tourism and local resource based enterprises (medicinal plant products), which would not only boost progress in that remote area, but also alleviate some of the pressure on the fragile landscape, slowing down desertification. The plan is also critical for ensuring that natural resources and unique cultural heritage of this area are preserved.

I would also like to take this opportunity to call on the government, civil society, and the people of Nepal’s drylands to consider how similar support could be extended to places where desertification is starting to take hold.

Through the realisation of well-thought through conservation plans that are locally managed, the people of Nepal’s drylands can look forward to a future of peace, health and social progress.


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