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UN calls Canada&#39s pullout from drought convention &#39regrettable&#39

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29 March 2013 – The United Nations today said it was ‘regrettable’ that the Government of Canada is withdrawing from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the only legally binding instrument that addresses desertification, land degradation and drought.

“The Convention is stronger than ever before, which makes Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Convention all the more regrettable,” the UNCCD secretariat said in a press release from Bonn, Germany.

“The UNCCD and its institutions works with all stakeholders and will continue to do so to safeguard the key resource base for food, water and energy security, and to sharply reduce poverty and build the resilience of rural ecosystems to expected climatic shocks like droughts,” the press release continued.

The UNCCD thanked the Government of Canada and Canadian civil society for playing “significant roles in moving the Convention to where it is today.” It also noted its annual contribution of about 3.127 per cent of the current Convention’s budget, or $290,644 in 2011.

The Convention also praised Canada for being a “major actor in global efforts to address food security in developing countries” while also being “frequently subjected to drought” with 60 per cent of its cropland in dry areas.

“We believe Canada will seize every opportunity to support efforts to sustain the implementation of the Convention for the good of present and future generations,” the UNCCD said.

The Germany-based secretariat and the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were informed of the Government’s decision to withdraw from the Convention on 28 March, according to the press release.

Canada is now the only one of 193 Member State not party to the Convention.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44529&Cr=drought&Cr1=

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Arab States seek agreement on reducing disaster risk at UN-backed conference

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19 March 2013 – Given the risks in Arab States of earthquakes, landslides and other disasters, hundreds of senior officials and civil society leaders are meeting at the first United Nations-backed conference for the region aimed at agreeing on a common position on disaster risk reduction.

“Arab countries have made significant progress on the development front over the past decades,” said Jordan Ryan, Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“However, such gains are put in jeopardy because of weak systems for disaster preparedness, which make the population vulnerable to a multitude of environmental disasters, especially in urban areas.”

Over the course of three days, participants at the First Arab Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, being held in Aqaba, Jordan, will work on creating benchmarks for reducing disaster risk in their cities. The conference is expected to transition into a consultative forum which meets on a regular basis, according to organizers.

“A shocking absence of enforced building construction standards, a sharp rise in urban poverty, and the growing and unchecked impact of climate change are among other factors that must make us even more determined to act decisively,” Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of the Royal Scientific Society and co-host of the conference, said in her opening statement.

Addressing national ministers, senior government officials, city mayors, and representatives of civil society, bilateral development agencies and the UN, Princess Sumaya said the meeting comes at a crucial time in the Arab world and necessitates a disaster risk plan specifically suited for the region.

Different parts of the Arab region are regularly exposed to a number of risks, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), which co-organized the conference, along with UNDP, the League of Arab States and partners.

In addition to earthquakes and landslides, regional risks include flash floods, extreme temperature events, drought, sand storms, wildfires and cyclones.

Over the last 30 years in the Arab States, more than 164,000 people were killed, 70 million people affected and reported economic damages of $19.2 billion due to disasters triggered by natural hazards, according to the latest data provided to UNISDR by the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

“UNISDR is encouraged to see the Arab States coming together to discuss disaster risk reduction and create a regional platform. The timing could not be better as we are looking forward to the Arab region making a significant contribution towards revising and renewing the existing framework for disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström.

The goal of the Hyogo Framework for Action is to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015 by building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. It will be discussed at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva starting on 19 May. The outcome from the Arab conference now underway will be presented during the meeting.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44428&Cr=disaster&Cr1=

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Caribbean nations participate in UN-backed tsunami preparedness test

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20 March 2013 – Caribbean nations are participating today in a full-scale tsunami alert exercise organized under United Nations auspices to test their reaction capacity.

According to the scenario of the exercise, organized under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an earthquake measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale will strike 90 kilometres off the coast of Oranjestad, Aruba, in the Caribbean Sea, generating a tsunami.

The fictitious alert message will be sent by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WCATWC), triggering local tsunami response plans.

“The test is designed to determine whether Caribbean countries are ready to respond in the event of a dangerous tsunami,” UNESCO stated in a news release.

The agency added that the goal is to test the Tsunami and other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions, which was established in 2005 by the countries of the region in collaboration with the Commission, ensuring that the national focal points responsible for the dissemination of the alert and first responders receive timely warning.

“Previous experience underlines the crucial importance of rapid transmission of information to minimize the damage caused by tsunamis,” said UNESCO.

According to the agency, 75 tsunamis have occurred in the Caribbean over the past 500 years – representing about 10 per cent of the entire number of oceanic tsunamis in the world during that period.

Simulated tsunami exercises have been organized previously in the Pacific in 2008 and 2011 and in the Indian Ocean in 2009 and 2011.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44439&Cr=tsunami&Cr1=

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UN chief, marking International Day, urges greater protection for world&#39s forests

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21 March 2013 – Governments, businesses and civil society must commit to protect forests by reducing deforestation, preventing environmental degradation, and providing sustainable livelihoods for all of those who depend on this precious ecosystem, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Forests are vital for our well-being. They cover nearly a third of the globe and provide an invaluable variety of social, economic and environmental benefits,” Mr. Ban said in a message marking the first International Day of Forests.

Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Around 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihood.

In his message, Mr. Ban highlighted the many functions that forests have in the environment and their benefits to humans. For example, they are the source of three-fourths of freshwater, stabilize slopes and prevent landslides, and protect coastal communities against tsunamis and storms. In addition, more than three million people use forest wood for fuel.

Forests also help combat climate change as they store more carbon than is in the atmosphere.

However, Mr. Ban noted that there are several threats to this ecosystem as urbanization and large-scale agriculture can exacerbate the rate of forest and biodiversity loss.

Some 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually, and deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

“As weather patterns alter due to climate change, many forested areas are increasingly vulnerable. This underlines the urgency of a global, inclusive, legally binding climate change agreement that will address greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the protection and sustainable management of forests,” Mr. Ban said.

“We need now to intensify efforts to protect forests, including by incorporating them into the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals,” he added.

The International Day of Forests comes just a little over two weeks before government ministers gather in Istanbul, Turkey, for the UN Forum on Forests. The Forum seeks to promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end.

“The first UN International Day of Forests is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate our unique relationship to forests and trees,” said the Forum’s Director, Jan McAlpine. “This is the day for the whole world to celebrate not only the gifts that forests and trees provide us, but also the unsung heroes, those who make a difference for your forests, your trees and your communities. Find them among you and thank them.”

At a ceremony to mark the Day, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano Da Silva, called on countries to support a Zero Illegal Deforestation target and promote tree planting.

“In many countries, illegal deforestation is degrading ecosystems, diminishing water availability and limiting the supply of fuelwood – all of which reduce food security, especially for the poor,” he said. “Stopping illegal deforestation and forest degradation would do much to end hunger, extreme poverty and bring about sustainability.”

FAO also published a report today on the State of Mediterranean Forests, which are expected to be significantly affected by climate change and the pressure of population growth.

“The Mediterranean region is undergoing many changes in their societies, lifestyles and climate,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Forests Eduardo Rojas-Briales. “If unmanaged, such changes could lead to negative impacts on livelihoods, biodiversity, wildfire risks, watersheds or desertification. There is an urgent need to regularly assess the state of Mediterranean forests using objective and reliable data and to manage endangered forest resources more sustainably.”

The report also provides recommendations for governments and foresters to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change on forests such as frequent fires, at local, regional and national levels.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44445&Cr=forests&Cr1=

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World Water Day: UN urges greater cooperation on common and fragile resource

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22 March 2013 – Greater cooperation is urgently needed for more equitable use and division of water, senior United Nations officials today stressed, marking the twentieth anniversary of World Water Day.

“Water is a common resource. Let us use it more intelligently and waste less so all get a fair share,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day.

In separate remarks at the high-level dialogue on water cooperation in New York, Mr. Ban reiterated that “competition is growing among farmers and herders, industry and agriculture, town and country, upstream and downstream, and across borders.”

One out of every three people lives in a country with moderate to high water stress, he said, and by 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent due in part to climate change and the needs of populations that are growing in size and prosperity.

He noted that agriculture is the largest user of freshwater, and there is a growing urgency to reconcile demands from farming with those of domestic and industrial uses, especially energy production.

Discussions at today’s meeting, he said, will help deliberations on the post-2015 development agenda, as world leaders, experts and civil society representatives seek to set sustainable development goals for after the deadline set to reach the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Mr. Ban noted that the goal related to halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been reached, but that the goal related to sanitation falls “woefully short.”

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson yesterday launched a call for urgent action to end the crisis of 2.5 billion people without basic sanitation. The call aims to focus on improving hygiene, changing social norms, better managing human waste and waste-water, and the elimination of open defecation, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and entrenched poverty.

Speaking a little more than 1,000 days before the MDG deadline, Mr. Ban urged renewed effort to achieve the goal, but stressed that 2015 “is not a finishing line, merely a milestone.”

Also addressing the event, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic said water is increasingly a precious resource which must be portioned off more equitably.

“More than ever before, water stands at the centre of a complex and interdependent set of challenges, which will stretch the imagination, resourcefulness and fortitude of Member States and the United Nations system for decades to come,” he said.

Mr. Jeremic announced that he will host a number of events related to water in the months ahead, including a thematic debate on the “nexus” between energy and water on 16 March, organized in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates and the newly established UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Also today, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that must share water resources with their neighbours.

Cooperation “is more than a technical or scientific issue,” it is also “about fighting poverty and protecting the environment,” said Director-General Irina Bokova.

“Too often people think water cooperation is only the concern of States. This is not enough. Water cooperation must happen at all levels – from the local to the global,” she added.

The UN has declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, recognizing that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) marked the Day by urging governments, civil society and ordinary citizens to remember that behind the statistics are the faces of children. Globally, an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases, and of these some 1,800 deaths are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“The numbers can be numbing, but they represent real lives, of real children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme.

“If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice. But this is precisely what happens every single day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene,” added Mr. Wijesekera.

Meanwhile, a group of independent UN experts today stressed that human rights, particularly those of the marginalized and vulnerable, be prioritized when considering the uses of resources.

“It is crucial to ensure cooperation between the competing users of water, to ensure that the human rights of all are realized and also that the most marginalized and vulnerable are not negatively affected by unequal resource allocation at every turn, by every decision on water resource allocation,” they said in a joint statement.

In an interview with the UN News Centre, one of these experts, Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, discussed the various players vying for the same resources.

“We are using much more water, we have much more people, so we have to work together to make sure that the human right to water and sanitation is a right for all, but also that agriculture gets the water it needs, that industry gets the water it needs, and so on.”

Ms. de Albuquerque added that to be effective, support for water cooperation must start at the highest political level and trickle down.

In Tajikistan, preparations are underway for the High-Level Conference on Water Cooperation to be held in August in the capital, Dushanbe. Mr. Ban discussed the conference with Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov during their meeting today at UN Headquarters. They also discussed the construction of the Roghun hydropower station, which when completed would be the world’s tallest dam at 335 metres, as well as disaster response and risk reduction in Central Asia.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44463&Cr=water&Cr1=

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UN to go dark globally for Earth Hour, promoting sustainable energy consumption

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22 March 2013 – The United Nations will turn off the lights for one hour at its Headquarters in New York and other facilities around the world tomorrow in observance of “Earth Hour,” an annual global event to raise awareness on the need to take action on climate change through more sustainable energy consumption.

In the lead up to the Hour, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the fact that governments, business and civil society all have a role to play in coming up with common sense answers for a cleaner, greener world.

“We participate with an undimmed determination to take action on climate change,” said Mr. Ban, who in September launched an initiative to achieve universal and sustainable access to energy around the world.

Since his first year in office in 2007, Mr. Ban has urged the UN system to “lead by example” in reducing its carbon footprint. In New York, the UN is now buying all the electricity for the iconic Secretariat Building from renewable energy sources.

The switch to renewables, currently 100 per cent wind energy, has been done by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates, a tradable certificate issued when electricity is generated and delivered to the grid from a qualifying renewable energy source.

Overall, the $1.9 billion renovation of the Secretariat aims to reduce energy consumption by 50 per cent and carbon emissions by 45 per cent. Action to reduce the UN’s impact on the environment is also being taken in UN offices throughout the world.

This is the fifth time that the UN will join many governments around the world that are participating in the Earth Hour event. In 2012, more than 7,000 cities and towns in 152 countries switched off their lights to show support for action on climate change and sustainable living.

Earth Hour was launched in 2007 in Australia by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the global conservation organization, which calls for people, organizations and cities to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour starting at 8:30 p.m. local time.

The Earth Hour event will take place one week after the vernal equinox – when night and day are the same duration in both hemispheres – which ensures that it will be night time for all people, wherever they are, at 8:30 in the evening.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44470&Cr=sustainable&Cr1=energy

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Marking International Day of Nowruz, Ban calls on cultures to protect environment

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21 March 2013 – The Persian spring festival of Nowruz celebrates not just the diversity and unity of cultures, but is also a reminder to protect the environment, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, adding that this holiday offers a chance to reflect on the beauty of nature.

“Nowruz does more than bring countries together; it reminds us to cherish the planet we share,” Mr. Ban said in his message for the International Day of Nowruz. “By highlighting the beauty of nature and the renewal of springtime, Nowruz can inspire celebrants and onlookers alike to practice greater environmental stewardship.”

Originating in Iran’s ancient history, Nowruz is celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide on 21 March, the day of the spring equinox, which marks the sun’s crossing of the Equator and the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

For more than three millennia, people in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, among other regions, have observed Nowruz through their own special traditions.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 March as the International Day of Nowruz. The holiday was also added to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity administered by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Nowruz engenders a vast array of cultural expressions. Celebratory rites can take the form of horseracing, traditional wrestling, songs in various languages, tales about the mythological King Jamshid, or lighting candles in front of homes. These different manifestations of the spirit of Nowruz carry the same message of human solidarity,” Mr. Ban said.

“I offer my best wishes to those who celebrate, and express hope that all people can use the occasion to reflect on the beauty of nature, the promise of spring and the power of culture to build peace,” he added.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44446&Cr=nowruz&Cr1=

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Sustainable development goals must address threats to environment

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14 March 2013 – United Nations officials today stressed that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are being formulated by Member States must address the environmental degradation that is threatening present and future generations.

“The eradication of poverty and promotion of health, education as well as economic and social development retain their prime importance,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the start of the open working group on the SDGs in New York.

“These challenges will need to be addressed in the SDGs, but the SDGs must go further to integrate more comprehensively environmental sustainability,” he added.

During the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) last June, countries produced a document entitled “The Future We Want,” which called for a wide range of actions, including beginning the process to establish sustainable development goals. The open working group was established to work on these goals and present a proposed list to the 68th session of the General Assembly in September.

“The SDGs should contribute to transformative change, in support of a rights-based, equitable and inclusive approach to sustainability at global, regional, national and local levels,” Mr. Ban said.

“Too often the discussions on sustainable development get stuck in emphasizing trade-offs between growth, poverty and environment,” Mr. Ban said. “Now we need to ensure that these important discussions – especially regarding a post-2015 agenda – advance economic, social, and environment objectives in a balanced and integrated manner.”

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, stressed that environmental issues need to be embedded in the worldviews of top diplomats and become an integral part of the SDG process.

“To safeguard the world from runaway climate change, we will need to de-couple economic growth from our dependence on carbon-based energy systems. I see no other effective option on the horizon. Continuing to build the global economy on fossil fuels would likely destroy our hopes to achieve sustainability,” he said.

Mr. Jeremic added that achieving a sustainable future will require the input not just of government but of business leaders, the scientific community and civil society.

“The deliberations of the open working group should aim to establish a new form of global engagement, whose scope may very well be difficult to grasp,” he said. “We must come together in common cause, with a single purpose: to make a universal transition to sustainability in a way that equitably addresses the needs of humanity for the 21st century.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44378&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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UN-backed forum extends protections for sharks, manta rays and precious timbers

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14 March 2013 – Five types of sharks and manta rays today formally gained new trade protections in a United Nations-backed meeting at which participants also voted to preserve precious timbers and other plants and animals.

Manta rays, oceanic whitetips, porbeagle sharks and three types of hammerheads will now be listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), effectively banning international trade in them unless shipments are accompanied by documentation showing they were caught legally.

“This is a big day for CITES and for the world’s wildlife. It takes enormous effort to negotiate treaties and then make them work,” the CITES Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon, said in a statement, as the World Wildlife Conference wrapped up today in Bangkok, Thailand.

“The international community has today decided to make best use of this pragmatic and effective agreement to help it along the path to sustainability in our oceans and forests.”

The announcement comes on the same day that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the population of Mediterranean and Black Sea sharks have declined by more than 97 per cent in number and ‘catch weight’ over the past two centuries, putting them at risk of extinction if current fishing levels continue.

In addition to the animals, CITES voted to regulate international trade in a range of rosewoods and ebonies from Asia, Central America and Madagascar.

“Rapidly rising demand for these precious tropical hardwoods has led to serious concerns that unregulated logging is depleting populations of already rare species,” CITES noted.

The rules will not take effect for 18 months to allow countries to resolve “technical and administrative issues.”

During today’s meeting, Member States also decided to strengthen the African Elephant Fund and the African elephant action plan to address the elephant poaching crisis.

Participants also discussed how to more effectively prosecute organized crime groups involved in rhinoceros-related crimes, as well as to enhance community awareness of economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit trafficking in wildlife.

The CITES members also decided to declare 3 March as World Wildlife Day.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44379&Cr=endangered&Cr1=

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Risk-management strategies needed to make societies drought-resilient, UN urges

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14 March 2013 – To make people more resilient to droughts, governments need to create coordinated national plans that incorporate drought preparedness, monitoring and information services, senior United Nations officials today urged at the close of a high-level international meeting in Geneva.

In a joint statement, the heads of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) said that “national policy frameworks that improve drought prediction and make this information available so that communities can act are indispensable.”

They noted that while national drought policies vary depending on a country’s local circumstances, sustainable development is the key to more resilient communities, “allowing families to escape the trap of having to rely time after time on emergency food aid.”

Resiliency also makes it possible to avoid short-term responses that further degrade the land and to pursue actions that restore drought-affected areas, the UN officials added.

The roles of farmers are essential in drought preparedness. The statement cites using drought-resistant crops varieties and techniques that boost soil fertility as ways to increase productivity and sustainability in drought-prone agriculture.

“These resources need to be introduced in ways that encourage farmers and other rural producers to be self-reliant in managing climatic variability,” they said.

Since 1950, the world’s drylands have increased by almost two per cent per decade, according to figures in the statement.

Among those areas is the Sahel, which stretches across Algeria, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sudan and South Sudan. Some nine million people in the region require food assistance from WFP, through emergency food assistance, rural development, nutrition and education activities – one year after the launch of a massive global effort following a drought.

In the week-long meeting, officials have pushed for a multi-sectoral approach, saying that the delivery of drought information and services is most effective when all actors, including local, regional and national governments, coordinate their efforts.

“Resource managers, educators, health providers, civil society and non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others should be engaged in developing and implementing policies,” said the statement by WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva and UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44383&Cr=drought&Cr1=

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Mediterranean and Black Sea sharks critically endangered, UN agency warns

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14 March 2013 – The dramatic drop in the populations of Mediterranean and Black Sea sharks will have serious implications for the region’s marine ecosystem and food chains, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a study released today.

Over the past two centuries, sharks in the Mediterranean Sea have declined by more than 97 per cent in number and ‘catch weight,’ putting them at risk of extinction if current fishing levels continue. In the Black Sea, catches of the main shark species have also declined by half the number since the early 1990s.

“This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region,” says the study, Elasmobranchs of the Mediterranean and Black Sea: Status, Ecology and Biology, which was produced by FAO.

The study found that sharks and rays are by far the most endangered groups out of 85 species found in the Mediterranean and Black seas. The two species are scientifically classified as Elasmobranchs as their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bones. Their biological characteristics make them more vulnerable than bony fish as they have low fecundity, late maturity and slow growth.

Due to their slow regeneration rates, they are highly susceptible to overfishing and to practices that degrade their habitat. While sharks and rays are generally not targeted directly, they are many times caught accidentally. However, the study shows that sharks have recently been targeted because of increasing demand for their fins, meat and cartilage.

Shipping, underwater construction and mining, and chemical and sound pollution have also affected their numbers significantly.

The FAO’s General Fishing Commission for the Mediterranean had adopted measures to protect sharks and rays such as the prohibition of ‘finning,’ which entails removing sharks’ fins and discarding the carcass, and the reduction of trawl fishing within three nautical miles off the coast to enhance protection of coastal sharks.

The Commission has also recommended that countries in the region invest in scientific research programmes to identify potential nursery areas to protect juveniles of sharks and rays from fishing activities.

Other initiatives undertaken by the Commission have included the organization of several meetings aimed at better understanding these species and supporting its members in the development of national plans to protect these key species.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44368&Cr=fishing&Cr1=

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Cooperation key to drought prevention, UN officials stress at high-level meeting

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11 March 2013 – Countries need to work together to use their experiences, science and technologies to create formal national preventive policies against droughts, United Nations officials said today at the opening of a high-level international meeting designed to make the world less susceptible to the impacts of water scarcity.

“Prevention must be our priority,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his video message to the opening of the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva.

“No single nation can insulate itself from global shocks. The only way to respond is through cooperation – between countries and among civil society, government and business.”

Organized jointly by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and partners, the five-day meeting brings together policymakers, development agencies and leading scientists and researchers.

“We have the knowledge, we have the experience, and we can reduce the impact of droughts,” said the WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, in his opening remarks.

“What we need now is a policy framework and action on the ground in all countries that suffer from drought,” he added, noting that the United States is the only country with a formal national drought policy.

Droughts have affected the Greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the US, Mexico, Brazil, parts of China and India, Russia and South-east Europe. In addition, 168 countries claim to be affected by desertification, a process of land degradation in the drylands that affects food production and is exacerbated by drought.

“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages, particularly in developing countries,” said the Special Representative of the FAO Director General, Ann Tutwiler.

More than 11 million people died, and 2 billion have been affected, by droughts since 1900, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

A main objective of the Geneva meeting is to familiarize countries with drought preparedness measures, including technical knowledge and conditions for the successful development of drought policies, Ms. Tutwiler said.

Organizers said they hope the meeting will lead to the development of national drought management policies focusing on cooperation and coordination at all levels of government and which increase governments’ capacity to cope with extended periods of water scarcity, said the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, Luc Gnacadja.

He stressed that governments and the international community need to stop reacting to droughts as “fire fighters” given their predictability and crippling effects on society.

“Almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water scarcity by 2030,” Mr. Gnacadja warned.

The meeting comes ahead of World Water Day, marked annually on 22 March. This year’s theme is international cooperation, echoing the General Assembly’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44339&Cr=water&Cr1=

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