Number 6: Sustainable Development Part 2
By Massé Lo
Of all the conventions stemming from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, the Convention on Desertification is probably the one which gives the greatest importance to the activities of local communities, community organizations, and NGOs. The convention treats them as central to action programmes to fight desertification, both nationally and regionally. As for NGOs, they are treated as full partners by states, both to elaborate action programmes and to mobilize the necessary financial resources for their implementation.
The decision to make local communities the main participants in the convention makes them unconditional partners in the implementation of the convention and of its regional annexes. It is also an invitation to countries threatened by desertification to change or improve their method of governance, especially in the management of natural resources.
It is within this framework of new challenges and responsibilities that NGOs taking part in the convention's negotiations created the Réseau International d'ONG et OCB pour le suivi de la convention contre la désertification (RIOD) to bring the convention to the level of local communities and to make sure they take part in all phases of its implementation.
An International Network
RIOD is not an organization, it is a mechanism for communication and coordination among NGOs, community groups, associations and rural organizations involved in the fight against desertification, in an effort to ensure follow-up to the convention.
RIOD's overall objective is to promote activities designed by NGOs and local communities to fight desertification, especially cooperation in the elaboration and implementation of national and subregional action programmes. More specifically, RIOD aims to reinforce the analytical capacity of its members in order to help them fulfil their role in implementing the convention, and to contribute to raising public awareness in both North and South.
RIOD is composed of National Focal Points, Subregional Focal Points, and Regional Focal Points. The focal points are designated communicators through which network members exchange information. They are selected based on criteria defined in the network's basic document. Among other things, all focal points must:
Subregional and regional focal points must have international experience, since they are in charge of liaison with intergovernmental and regional organizations involved in the convention's implementation.
Coordination of the network is handled by a Global Focal Point. This person is in charge of developing the network's communications efforts, and of compiling and distributing the RIOD newsletter, in cooperation with regional focal points. The terms of reference of the focal points are defined in a way that ensures efficient ongoing follow-up of the convention at the national, subregional and international levels. To achieve this and to facilitate the flow of information, there is no real hierarchy among focal points: all are partners is a single network.
An Action Plan for the Convention
RIOD's Action Plan is based on activities through which focal points will promote and guarantee the involvement of local communities, especially women, in the implementation of national and subregional action plans in the fields of information, awareness raising, and elaboration of mechanisms for NGO participation.
There are three types of activity: basic activities, lobbying, and network activities.
Basic activities are those necessary for efficient communications: gathering information on the fight against desertification, publication of form letters, and electronic conferencing of members among the various network members on issues relative to the convention.
Lobbying activities take place during convention negotiations and official meetings on implementation of the convention. They involve writing of position papers and declarations which reflect NGO positions. The bulletin ECO, published since the onset of convention negotiations, is the best tool available for NGO lobbying activities.
The final category is made up of information and awareness activities at a national level in order to promote greater mobilization of those involved in the fight against desertification. These would include the translation of the convention and the production of press materials.
The remarkable participation of NGOs in the convention negotiations and their role in the convention's implementation place RIOD in a privileged position at the crossroads of the various institutions involved in implementation. As a result, initiatives are being launched in all regions in order to expand the network and to prepare its members to take part in the elaboration and application of action plans to fight desertification.
RIOD in Africa
The International Convention to Combat Desertification is considered to be one of the most promising for Africa among all the conventions dealing with environment. It recognizes Africa's special status and gives it priority. In this way, decisions were made to implement urgent measures for Africa before the convention comes into force, mobilizing all partners to design action plans responsive to the needs of local communities.
As Regional Focal Point for Africa, ENDA has prepared an action plan for the network aimed particularly at NGOs.
The first initiative in the plan involved the organization of a forum for NGOs involved in the convention. The forum took place in Senegal, ENDA's headquarters, in collaboration with Senegal's National Council of Development NGOs (CONGAD), several community organization networks, and development workers, including the Arid Lands International Network (ALIN) and Réseau Afrique 2000. The forum helped inform and sensitize participants, compile a relatively complete list of NGOs, community groups and associations involved in the desertification issue, and to appoint CONGAD as national focal point for RIOD. A National Coordination Committee (CNCOD) for follow-up activities was also established.
Similar activities in other countries are now paving the way for the designation of national focal points in Mali, Burkina Faso, Uganda and elsewhere. Plans for subregional meetings of NGOs and community organizations have been elaborated and forwarded to subregional focal points in order to speed up the process.
In Mali, a number of information and awareness meetings about the convention as well as a national NGO forum have taken place. They were organized by Guamina, RIOD's national focal point in Mali.
In Niger, a national seminar on the convention was held on 26-28 June 1995. Its aim was to provide broader information to non-governmental partners and to assist them in providing information to the local community level. After the seminar, NGOs decided to set up a National NGO Coordinating Committee against desertification. Previously, NGOs had taken part in the national workshop on the elaboration of a National Action Plan, and in national information and awareness days on the convention, on 16 and 17 June 1995.
A study on collaborative participation in the elaboration of National Action Plans was completed by a group of African NGOs, with support from UN Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO). The study was presented to the subregional conference on the convention in Dakar, and was retained as a reference document for the elaboration of National Action Plans in the Comité Inter-Etats de Lutte contre la Sécheresse au Sahel (CILSS) countries. Based on this level of recognition, the NGOs decided to change their approach to the project in order to reinforce their capacities in the fight against desertification and to ensure their effective involvement in the plans of action.
In addition, a number of subregional activities are taking place.
In Central Africa, the Subregional Focal Point (CONGAC, Cameroon) is committed to raising awareness among public authorities to encourage them to ratify the convention. A number of activities are also underway to inform NGOs about the convention. In Cameroon, the interministerial committee in charge of the convention has now been opened to NGOs.
In the Sudan, a National Coordinating Committee of NGOs has been established as a result of the days set aside to raise awareness about the convention.
The designation of National Focal Points is not moving forward as quickly as expected, however. A project to produce a popular version of the convention and the elaboration of pariticipative National Action Plans against desertification by the Regional Focal Point for Africa should help speed up matters. The aim is to designated as many National Focal Points as possible by the convention's entry into force in 1997, both in Africa and on other continents.
To fill the need for information and awareness raising during the convention's interim period, RIOD has organised a number of NGO meetings and set up several projects designed to strengthen communication and build capacity among its members. But little by little, mobilisation and financial management activities have led to institutionalization of the network. In fact, the approach of the Global Focal Point to the network's management has sometimes clashed with some members' view of the network's goals.
As a result, at the seventh INCD in Nairobi, NGOs decided to restructure RIOD and turn it into a simple communications network. To maintain the level of resources, however, members have been asked to share their experience in the fields of project design and fundraising.
The aim now is to make RIOD accessible to NGOs and community organizations worldwide in order to assist them in shouldering their responsibilities under the International Convention to Combat Desertification.
The new structure of RIOD should be adopted at the first Conference of Parties of the INCD.