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Recuperar el terreno perdido - English Summary

04 August 2002

Bonn, Germany: It takes centuries to create a single and unique inch of earth that can disappear with shocking speed," says José Eduardo González Estrella, a national UN Volunteer in Ecuador. Day after day he takes up a trying battle against drought and desertification. The volunteer believes these phenomena have reached such a critical state that they could "eliminate a layer of earth on the planet." Nearly 30 per cent of the total surface of the earth is in danger, in particular the arid and fragile soil which has suffered depleted vegetation and harsh weather conditions.

In Ecuador, Eduardo focusses on the issues of deforestation, depletion of vegetation and soil erosion. Such phenomena, affected by socio-economic conditions as well as climatic and topographical factors, have led to serious degradation of the environment. The UN Volunteer helps reduce this process through a project carried out jointly by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNDP Office to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNSO). Working at the centre of the initiative, José Eduardo is the principal technical officer putting in place the "National Programme of Action for the Fight against Desertification and Drought (PAND)" to apply the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).

Attached to the Ministry of the Environment, he supports the department handling conventions and international cooperation. Since 1995, work towards implementing CCD through the PAND has seen periods of great - and lesser - activity. José Eduardo's job is to reactivate CCD in Ecuador, specifically, to assess technical criteria for environmental projects and to carry out public information campaigns. During 2002, he organized national meetings, conferences, training sessions, made presentations, wrote press articles and reports, distributed posters and helped form a national working group on desertification.

The Ministry of Environment, the national forestry department, local government offices, non-governmental organizations, volunteer organizations and institutions of higher learning all show keen interest in the volunteer's work in desertification. According to José Eduardo it is important that the partners cooperate in the three priority regions - Loja, Manabí and Chimborazo - where desertification is recognized as a serious problem.

The Ministry of Environment has designated focal points in the priority zones hardest hit by drought. Decentralization, says the UN Volunteer, is key in combating desertification. To support community initiatives, he travels frequently to affected regions to maintain direct contact with residents. People tell him they want practical solutions, including immediate steps to conserve rainwater, improved access to groundwater, the use of alternative crops and tree planting campaigns using indigenous species.

José Eduardo expresses concern, however, about the sustainability of the work if long-term financing is not secured. Decision-makers at all levels, he adds, should be aware of desertification and its serious consequences. "There is much work ahead to convince people that a clean and stable environment is a requirement for progress," he says. "But we have to get started."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)