Statement by H.E. Pedro Luis Pedroso, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the
United Nations Environment Programme and UN-Habitat and Chairman of the Group of 77 (Nairobi),
on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, to the Special Segment of the 7th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (Nairobi, Kenya - 24 October 2005)

Mr. President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, on the matter of economic opportunities in the drylands under the UNCCD.

Mr. President,

The G77 and China has no choice but to view the present question from a global standpoint, for the Group encompasses more than half the world’s population and a significant part of the world’s land space.

Recognising that 2006 will be a significant year in the life of this Convention as the General Assembly has designated it The International year of Deserts and Desertification , we find this Conference of the Parties to be an opportune moment to pay attention to this fundamental question of economic opportunities in the drylands.

Mr President,

Before we begin, I think we should try and determine what we really mean by ‘economic opportunities’. We must ask ourselves the question: Is this an issue of economic exploitation of the resources which exist in the drylands, or do we speak of the institutions, the mechanisms, the policies and all the necessary elements that comprise a vehicle for sustainable development of the drylands?

Indeed, it is the view of G77 and China that economic opportunities are not ends in themselves, but rather, pathways to achieving overall social betterment for the people of the world, and in particular, for those living in developing countries.

It is our view that this ‘social betterment’ concerns people’s educational, health, cultural and overall social well-being. Yet, the question may still be asked: Which comes first? Do we deal first with the issues of the gathering and movement of resources through the mechanism of international trade, in the hope that economic opportunities will emerge, or do we address the fundamental issue of social well-being? For the G77 and China, for the solution of these questions the current international economic system and policies need to be changed.

Mr President,

We are discussing here the idea of creating economic opportunities in drylands and in some countries millions of dollars are spent in subsidies. As I speak, we know of the fundamental changes being made in international trade, but these changes are leading to a simple reality: in the past the people in these dryland areas had to shed tears and sweat profusely to eke out a living. If we continue on this path, they will now be asked to bleed to survive. These are the simple truths; these are the realities. And this is why we in the G77 and China cannot see ‘economic opportunities’ only in the sense of the possibility to exploit resources. This is why we believe that this understanding of ‘economic opportunities’ must be concerned first and foremost with the quality of people’s lives; how they live, how they eat, how they drink, how they clothe themselves.

Economic opportunities in dryland areas is understood by the G77 and China to mean the rights and practical means for the people in these lands to use, in a sustainable way, whatever resources are available to them to ensure their equal march to proper human development. This implies access to education, health, culture and the guarantee of food security.

As a global community, the question is no longer one of whether or not there is need; we have all agreed that there is need to change the lives of the poor. Our concurrence is recorded in the Millennium Development Goals, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and all the other instruments and mechanisms that have emerged from our deliberations at various levels.

In spite of all these agreements, however, we have experienced an increase in extreme poverty. We had agreed to halve, by 2015, the level of poverty, which would have meant an annual reduction of 46 million poor people, yet, in the Year 2000, the number of people living in extreme poverty increased by 28 million. Furthermore, since the adoption of the MDGs, only 2.1 million people have been saved from hunger - far from the 28 million needed to achieve the target of halving hunger by 2015. In 2003, while developed countries spent a total of 68.4 billion dollars in Official Development Assistance (ODA), developing countries had to disburse 436 billion dollars in foreign debt repayments.

So it is very clear that the issue must now be to tackle the political will, the systems and the policies that prevent us achieving a better way of life for our peoples.

The UNCCD provides an additional legally-binding framework for us to once again examine these systems and policies, and the impact that the creation of opportunities will have on the implementation of its main objectives.

Finally Mr President,

As we continue on this our pathway for development, let us bear in mind, that there is not much time to lose. If we really want to change the face of this humanity, it is time for greater solidarity and to fulfil all commitments made.

Mr. President, I thank you.