Addressing the Fourth International Conference of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said big schemes as well as insensitive tourism projects were either forcing indigenous communities from their lands or causing cultural conflicts.Throwing his support behind a call by the Alliance to assess cultural damage, the UNEP chief said, “The more we lose diversity, both culturally and in the natural world, the more we run the risk of instability, the possibility of disasters such as crop failures and basic knowledge on coping with natural disasters such as drought.”Mr. Toepfer said studies carried out by UNEP and its partners had found a firm link between cultural and linguistic diversity and biodiversity. “On a global level we have less than 7,000 languages and of those up to 2,500 are on the ‘Red List’ of endangered languages,” he noted. “If you correlate this to biodiversity – the wealth of animal and plant life on the planet – you see that where you are losing cultural diversity, you are losing biodiversity, and visa versa.” Pledging to address the issue, he said UNEP’s Governing Council would take it up in February. “Genetic resources and indigenous knowledge are too often treated as a common public good,” Mr. Toepfer said. “This has to re-considered and UNEP will do all it can in its power to see that happen.”
William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), presided over an international assistance meeting yesterday in the capital Kinshasa that was mainly aimed at establishing areas of interest for donors and taking stock of the work already done in this area by MONUC and the wider international community.It also served as a forum to explore ways the international community could coordinate and adequately manage its efforts in support of the DRC’s Transitional Government and the Independent Electoral Commission.This first gathering was a fact-finding meeting, according to Mr. Swing. “We must review the programmes and available potential resources, since we are about to initiate discussions with government officials who have responsibilities in this area and with the independent electoral Commission, to be derived from a law of the National Assembly,” he added.Mr. Swing said most of the representatives of donor countries had expressed the wish to see MONUC, as a neutral structure in the transitional process, play the rallying role of the international community – with a view to ensuring a smooth coordination of activities and effectively optimizing “our joint efforts.”The next meeting is scheduled for 26 August.