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U.N. Desertification Meeting Ends

November 27, 1999

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A global conference on the problem of growing deserts ended Saturday with rich and poor nations split over funding to fight desertification.

Desertification affects some 250 million people in 110 countries. Each year, more than 23,000 square miles of arable land _ an area twice the size of Maryland _ turns into desert, making poor countries even less able to feed themselves.

The 11-day Conference of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification brought together 900 delegates from 165 governments, but the consensus that emerged over the problem’s urgency collapsed when the issue came to money.

``The big unresolved question is how much money the developed countries of the world are willing to allocate to deal with the problem,″ a convention staff member said by telephone from Recife, 1,160 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. The member spoke on condition of anonymity.

The organization proposed a two-year budget of $19 million to continue its activities, which help countries set up programs to combat desertification. But delegates from developed nations whittled it down to $13.7 million.

Actual programs to fight the spread of deserts worldwide would cost $22 billion a year for 20 years, according to documents distributed at the conference.

The main causes of the problem are climate changes and human activities such as overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices. In Brazil, desertification affects more than 17 million people and close to 400,000 square miles.

The U.N. desert convention arose from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Aside from isolated measures by individual countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, little has been done to prevent deserts from expanding.

A final document, called the Recife Initiative, acknowledges that efforts have been insufficient. It calls for drafting a Declaration of Commitments at the next meeting to set a timetable and strengthen programs that fight the spread of deserts.

The next meeting will likely be in Bonn, Germany, in October 2000.

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