Mr. Chairman, Ministers, Mr. Director-General, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to have this opportunity to address your assembly today.
For me it is a chance to acknowledge publicly the great debt of gratitude owed by the African countries south of the Sahara to FAO and, in general, to the international community, the Holy See and a number of friendly countries, not forgetting numerous private supporters. This acknowledgment is all the more appropriate given the circumstances currently prevailing in some of our countries as a result of drought.
As the first world intergovernmental institution set up after the last war even before the United Nations itself, FAO today represents a prime asset in man's ardous battle to master his destiny - a destiny that is both individual and collective, for there has long been a clear awareness of the interdependence of humanity.
During its 27 years of activity, FAO has brought special and increasingly sustained attention to bear on the specific situation of the Third World; it has had to foresee, imagine and forestall circumstances that are both complex and inconstant in their responses to rationality.
Challenges such as those posed for the past six years by low rainfall in the Sahelian regions exert a direct influence on the intervention capability of FAO and on its sense of urgency. Yet, despite the magnitude of the disaster, FAO has retained its effectiveness and remained equal to the difficult task. Here I must voice our deep gratitude for the generous and determined enthusiasm which all its members continue to display.
However, we must view the situation in all its many and various implications, both immediate and future.
It is certainly a shock to realize that the basic food needs of a large portion of humanity are not guaranteed in this era of advanced technology, and it is frightful to think that the worst is still possible.
Today, the general situation is fairly well known to the public at large, thanks to the numerous reports sent back by the international press.
It is now six years since the first hesitant alarm was given. In my country, in Ouagadougou itself, it became necessary in 1967 to ration water, to prohibit the watering of gardens and car-washing and to supply water to certain districts by tanker. The situation worsened until it gradually affected other regions, particularly the northern part of the country where most livestock-raising takes place.
However, it was during the 1972 rainy season that the most serious rainfall deficit occurred, destroying crops and depriving herds of grazing all along the zone between the 12th and 20th north parallels. This disaster dealt the death-blow to countries some of which were already among the poorest in the world, their endemic poverty itself being partly due to the concentration of rainfall in only three months of the year.
Countries of the Sudano-Sahelian zone like Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad and Upper Volta have suffered particularly heavily from this disaster. The cumulative effect of the partial drought of the previous six years has resulted in a merciless degradation of pastures and the using-up of food reserves.
At the same time, most wells ran dry last November and December because of inadequate groundwater renewal. Here and there enough water remained in streams, rivers, dams and ponds to hold out for a while, but many populations had soon to abandon their villages to seek food and water.
Almost everywhere the long exodus of misery took the road to the large population centres, bringing all sorts of insoluble problems in its train. The great distances covered on foot by undernourished women and children represented one more blow at their health and rendered them unable to withstand the mildest ailments. Families broke up during this migratory adventure.
The drought, which in fact has not been confined to Africa, has already led to substantial grain purchases on foreign markets. Available stockpiles have thus been heavily eroded and in any case appear insufficient to meet African needs as currently established. Despite all the solicitude of international solidarity, the situation is therefore fraught with peril.
Some details are perhaps called for, as it cannot be repeated too often that we are not simply facing a passing dearth, and that the after-effects will be serious and will take long to remedy.
Immense internal migrations which will weigh heavily on social and political equilibrium have taken place. Decimated, weakened and sterilized live-stock and degraded pasture will not be reconstituted overnight. Because dried and smoked fish forms a basic component of African diet, the drying-up of the rivers and streams means that an essential item of protein diet is jeopardized. The stock of game, insofar as it represents a considerable tourist attraction, may also be badly hit.
The short and medium-term consequences for a particularly fragile economy based mainly on livestock-raising and cropping are nothing short of disastrous.
When we realize that the budget of Upper Volta amounts to 11 thousand million CFA francs for a population of around 5½ million inhabitants - an income derived mainly from agricultural activity, which employs over 90 percent of the population - we can then understand that the catastrophe that has struck us is of much more serious scope than it would be for a diversified economy. The survival of our populations is truly at stake.
We are fortunate that our peoples are able to plumb the abyss of privation without railing against fate, but they must yet be allowed to retain a glimmer of hope that things will be better tomorrow.
Faced with this gigantic disaster which has surpassed the most pessimistic forecasts, and side by side with the many public and private relief operations that have been mounted, FAO has naturally been entrusted with the task of coordinating the efforts of the United Nations family.
With Upper Volta chosen as the focus of action, its Ministry of Agriculture has been given the heavy responsibility of initially dealing with the most urgent problems, and later of organizing the action needed for a lasting solution of Sudano-Sahelian agricultural problems in concert with international aid.
Needless to say, the magnitude of the necessary studies and action will call even more markedly than in the past for selflessness on the part of all Member Nations.
The resolutions passed at the conference of 26 and 27 March 1973 in Ouagadougou may be summarized as follows:
Joint drought control programme based on as thorough a study as possible of the drought and of means of controlling it.
Coordination of all necessary action by a standing inter-state committee, bearing in mind the geographical unity of the area concerned and the magnitude of the means to be employed.
Concentration and coordination of means for the execution of hydraulic or agro-pastoral projects; at the same time, reforestation and environmental protection action, agronomic and animal husbandry research, emergency food stockpiles.
From these resolutions it is clear that only large-scale action on at least a sub-regional level can bring about a climatic improvement. It is also noticeable that the need for reforestation has occupied a leading place in planning the operations which must be undertaken as soon as possible.
Here, several views must be considered. One view is that the present drought is part of a cyclic phenomenon, and that this is not the first time that Africa has suffered from drought.
Another view is that excessive deforestation is, if not the actual cause, at least a factor that aggravates the natural cyclic phenomenon just mentioned. This theory in any case deserves attention.
The deforestation in question results essentially from different factors. First, there is the traditional practice of bush fires in conjunction with extensive cultivation, whereby cropland can be cheaply rotated. To some extent, population pressure may have broken this natural equilibrium. Second, the phenomenon of urban concentration, by considerably increasing firewood requirements, is alleged to heighten the trend towards deforestation on city peripheries.
In the light of observation and experience, it likewise seems that among the factors causing land degradation in certain African countries should be included goats. These animals appear to be a real scourge in semi-arid countries; they attack young shoots and thus prevent regrowth. However, their relative numerical importance in the Sudano-Sahelian zone is undeniable for despite everything they are extremely useful in that the she-goat is the poor man's cow.
It is quite possible that this spectrum of factors plays a decisive role, especially as conceivable alternative solutions are liable to encounter serious resistance.
Against this background, it is therefore necessary to resort to intensive reforestation so as to re-establish the ecological balance and simultaneously to satisfy domestic wood requirements.
The Conference of Ministers held in Ouagadougou last March considered such an effort to be essential and drew up a minimum action programme in that field. It is planned, for example, to plant an average of 10 000 hectares in each of the States concerned. We feel that this is a survival action to which concerned international organizations should give their total support.
Scientists who have examined the drought problem have arrived at two explanations. One school contends that the world is getting continually hotter, causing the climatic disturbances recorded for a number of years past, “rotten summers” in temperate regions and reduced rainfall in tropical zones. Another theory is that the world is undergoing a cyclic succession of glacial and warm periods.
Be this as it may, systematic studies are proving increasingly urgent. On their results depends a strategy whose topicality is amply demonstrated by the present events. The cry of alarm long ago raised by FAO was a cry in the wilderness, but the image is now becoming reality and the true wilderness of death and desolation is waging an attack to which the international community cannot remain indifferent.
Mention has been made of the great droughts of 1904, 1913 and 1945 which caused numerous victims in Africa, but they do not seem to have been as serious as this one today.
Yet, at the very moment when our economies are crumbling under this natural disaster, it must be said again that the decisive factor lies in the financial and technical support provided by international solidarity.
Mobilization of the human energies and masses necessary for a quick result is, admittedly, the responsibility of our respective countries. Here I am in a position to make the most formal commitment in the name of all. Nevertheless, the leadership and technical coverage of the operation will call for a large number of experts whom we do not yet possess, at least in sufficient quantity.
While it is plain that this participation by the various populations will not entail the payment usually made to executing personnel, yet they must still be guaranteed adequate means of subsistence.
It has been said that this year's drought reached its very serious stage because of delay by the African governments concerned in giving the alarm, and because of their reluctance to state the true gravity of the situation. This reproach may appear justified if one is ignorant of African psychology.
Those African States which attained independence after the long colonial period found themselves compelled to build up an economic and technical infrastructure in keeping with their new obligations.
Because of the immensity of the task and the level of their own resources they have had to appeal to international goodwill. While, in general, they have encountered cooperativeness, particularly at official public or private level, they often come up against opinions and attitudes which, albeit at non-responsible levels, are nonetheless impediments that do absolutely nothing for their development efforts.
This being so, an admission to having food problems is one of the most painful to make, though it is realized that one must keep a sense of proportion. The fact that our SOS was sent out all at once like the convulsion of a drowning man should be seen as a mark of respect towards ourselves and the international community, which is being called on only in the last resort when local resources and energies are inadequate to the task.
Furthermore, according to the statement by the Government of Senegal, outside attention was drawn as far back as 4 September 1972 to the food deficit which would result from the drought, and President Senghor renewed that appeal on the following 9 October.
I myself, in my 1972 end-of-year message, stressed the foreseeable consequences of the inadequate rainfall during that year.
The truth is that probably no one had then realized the magnitude of the disaster, all the more so because it was the cumulative effect of several years, much more than of the year 1972 alone.
Of all the immediate problems confronting us two are particularly difficult of solution: first, the provision of drinking water for humans and animals and, second, the shipment of food to distribution points.
This is where the vastness of Africa really tells. With all wells and ponds dry, one can scarcely conceive the number of tankers that would have been necessary to meet the elementary need for water; victims of the drought have infrequently been found pressing the mud of ponds in order to extract a few drops of liquid; wildlife too, in its hunt for water, sometimes gets stuck in the mud and there is condemned to perish.
There is also, of course, a real threat of epidemics and damage to health. So far, however, thanks to the exuberant activities of the vultures - the sole beneficiaries of this disaster - the risk has not yet materialized.
With regard to Upper Volta, its transit seaports in Ivory Coast and Ghana lie 1 000 and 800 kilometers respectively from Ouagadougou, whence onward shipment must be effected over a distance of at least 300 km in the direction of the stricken regions. This shows the extraordinary constraint on shipment times and on prices at the destination.
Very fortunately, thanks to the aircraft made available to us by some European countries and to continuous turn-arounds, supplies of food and feed can now be ensured regularly. Here I must warmly praise all those flying personnel who, lacking adequate landing-grounds, indulge every day in feats of acrobatics in order to make sure that the cargoes destined for the unfortunate populations are dropped as efficiently as possible. They do this confidently, and with enthusiasm, courage and selflessness. I hope they will receive the congratulations of their governments.
However, we must not overlook the tremendous efforts that still have to be made in the transport field. Of the 400 000 tons of grain promised to our six countries, we are still awaiting more than half. And when we consider the road hold-ups caused by the first rains, we may find the most reliable solutions to lie in the field of air transport using dropping facilities and appropriate packaging.
At the same time, the medium and long-term measures which our ministers have laid down in the emergency programme require persistent attention and will. The awareness apparent in the large international family, in private associations and organizations and in the world's press must be consolidated. Otherwise, if it is only a flash in the pan our populations will still suffer periodically from famine with all its train of misfortunes.
I shall stress once again the compelling necessity for coordination of all activities to be undertaken in the medium and long-term phases. All aid sources must realize that our national experts and technicians are the ones best placed to decide with justice and realism on our real needs in this field.
I have no doubt that these remarks will be borne in mind and that all contributions to this lenghthy task will be used in the best possible way for the sole benefit of our populations.
One thing is certain: the deep and persistent movements which are shaking the youth of the world all stem from a desperate will towards justice for all, towards a deep brotherhood that knows no frontier; of all this, international solidarity has already garnered its heritage. The United Nations and its specialized agencies have turned with increasing resolution to the service of this need of our time. All that remains is to build that world which our children desire.