Rio de Janeiro - Whether the discussion is on jobs, food, energy, water, oceans or sustainable cities, inclusive dialogue is key, say UN agencies on the sidelines of Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, as negotiators enter the last round of talks on an outcome document ahead of the conference's official start next week.
Civil society is playing an unprecedented role in Rio+20 seeking to have a range of concerns reflected in the outcome document. Some 19,000 people representing major groups such as business, farmers, indigenous peoples, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, science, trade unions, women and youth, are attending the actual summit which runs from 20 to 22 June.
But with one week to go until the start of the conference, representatives of member states still do not agree on how to implement sustainable development initiatives, some of which were crafted at the first UN sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, known popularly as the Earth Summit,
"We are in a phase where traditional donors are going through financial and economic difficulties. They are therefore less willing to follow through with commitments assumed in the past," said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Executive Secretary, Brazil National Commission for Rio+20, addressing journalists at a press briefing here today.
"The Group of 77 plus China had the proposal for a fund for sustainable development. The $30 billion-a-year proposal has found agreement amongst the Group, as part of the negotiations," confirmed Mr. Figueiredo Machado. Whether that proposal will be included in the outcome document, however, still remains to be seen.
A second component of the conference outcome is a compendium of voluntary commitments by governments and other stakeholders, such as the corporate sector and international organizations such as UN agencies, funds and programmes whose officials are among the thousands taking part in the conference. Several of these commitments will support the monitoring and implementation of disaster risk reduction efforts around the globe. UNISDR, the UN office for disaster risk reduction, has registered a commitment to provide a web-based Collaborative Platform on Disaster Resilience for Nations and Cities.
At a side event on drought policy organized by the World Meteorological Organization yesterday, Mannava Sivakumar, Director of the Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, said his organization was advocating for the establishment of universal national drought policies, because "droughts are by far the most damaging of all hazards."
He said drought-affected poor countries in the African Sahel as well as wealthy countries such as the United Kingdom, where an official state of drought was recently declared. WMO is planning to convene a high-level meeting on national drought policy in March 2013, in Geneva, to bring the issue forward, and has already been conducting several consulative meetings in preparation for those talks.
"National governments must adopt policies that engender cooperation and coordination at all levels of government in order to increase their capacity to cope with extended periods of water scarcity in the event of a drought," he said. "The ultimate goal is to create more drought resilient societies."
Brazil's semi-arid region in the northeast of the country is experiencing the worst drought on record wiping out as much as 90 per cent of the region's agricultural crops, said Antonio Magalhaes, from the country's Center for Strategic Studies and Management, who also spoke at the event.
He said agricultural yields in that part of the country account today for 7 per cent of Brazil's GDP compared to around 30 per cent half a century ago.
Meteorological drought -- the absence of rainfall over a long period of time -- may not have posed a problem centuries ago when groundwater was abundant and the environment was resilient, he said. But because of continued human activities that are harmful to the environment -- such as deforestation to make way for farming and cattle-raising and to harvest firewood -- even a short period of drought brings a cascade of harmful effects.
Helena Molin Valdes, Deputy Director of UNISDR, said drought management is not only about science and monitoring rainfall. It is principally a development issue that cuts across most sectors of both local and national government: forestry, agriculture, water resource management and infrastructure with consequences for livelihoods, social safety nets and urbanization.
She urged the international community to support countries in creating national disaster loss data bases which systematically record the human and economic impacts of drought thus making it a more visible risk and providing the evidence for decision makers to take proactive measures to reduce the impacts. She also said focus was needed to demonstrate the benefits of such measures in order to make them politically viable and acceptable. Evidence about economic losses was missing because countries had not yet begun to record those losses systematically.
Mohamed Bazza, an official from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization focusing on irrigation water management, confirmed that Australia was the only country in the world with a drought policy, even though between 30 to 40 countries are hit by drought at least once a year.