"Don't desert drylands" -- World Environment Day in Cyprus

14/06/2006

Don't desert wetlands in Cyprus

The UNDP's initiative Action for Cooperation and Trust in Cyprus used this year's World Environment Day theme "Don't desert drylands" (www.unep.org/wed/2006) as an opportunity to organize an event on 5-6 June in the Nicosia Holiday Inn. The island of Cyprus, in the dryer part of the Mediterranean region, suffers from the global climate change process and is subject to desertification, which resulted in extreme losses in soil productivity and in the depletion of the quality of water resources.

UNDP's Nicolas Jarraud and Christopher Louise organized the WED "Eco-Forum" to provide an opportunity for Cypriots to come together and discuss how to protect their common environmental assets and heritage. The Eco-Forum provided a platform this year for discussion on water issues in Cyprus, the impact of business on the environment, and the environment and the relationship between environmental NGOs and the media. It was intended to forge new partnerships and stimulate ideas for implementing potential solutions to environmental problems on the island (more details on www.undp-act.org).

The Eco-Forum started on 5 June with a series of lectures on desertification. The Ramsar Secretariat was asked to introduce the theme by making the link with aquatic ecosystems, i.e. wetlands in drylands and their services for human well-being, focusing on the Ramsar Convention approach and the latest findings from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The history and the future of water use in Cyprus were summarized by George Petrides and George Constantinou. Salih Gücel presented the first results of a project on the management and assessment of the ecology of northern Cyprus's artificial wetlands. Over the past 15 years many reservoirs were built in order to store irrigation and drinking water and to recharge groundwater resources. These wetlands have now become key sites for the maintenance of biodiversity. These lectures were complemented by two practical, business-oriented approaches to fight desertification: Miroslav Vosatka of the Czech Academy of Sciences presented mycorrhizae, the "nice fungi" living with the roots of plants, as a tool to increase vegetation (and crop) growth. Then, Willem van Cotthem, of the University of Ghent in Belgium, presented his mix of polymers and plant nutrients having a lasting effect on plant growth and protection against drought conditions (www.bettersoil.com), distributed to farmers in the developing world by the Terra Cottem Foundation.

The lectures in the afternoon focused on the UN Global Compact initiative launched in 2000, bringing companies together with UN agencies, labour and civil society to support universal environmental and social principles. Through the power of collective action, the Global Compact seeks to promote responsible corporate citizenship so that business can be part of the solution to the challenges of globalisation. In this way, the private sector - in partnership with other social actors - can help realize a more sustainable and inclusive global economy. The Eco-Forum lectures addressed the themes of sustainable tourism and environmentally sustainable building constructions in Cyprus. The opportunity to bring together business leaders and other stakeholders to discuss corporate environmental responsibility was provided through a workshop the next morning. This was followed by am afternoon workshop to establish a dialogue between journalists and environmental NGOs and the civil society, to discuss how to improve public environmental awareness, animated by the journalists Alex Kirby, Lily Poberezhka and Tim Grout-Smith from the UK.

The Eco-Forum organizers have to be congratulated for this very rich and inspiring event, to be followed up by an Eco-Forum fair this autumn.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

A water reservoir important for biodiversity in the northern part of Cyprus

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