English-EN | Español-ES | Italiano-I | Ελληνικά-GR | Portuguese-PT
Desertification Indicator System for Mediterranean Europe


The main issues associated with Mediterranean desertification

Return to the introduction


Institutional organisation to combat desertification
Lead authors: Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia, Monica Caggiano <quaranta@unibas.it>
With contributions from: Maria José Roxo and Pedro Cortesao Casimiro <mj.roxo@iol.pt>, Leopoldo Rojo Serrano <lrojo@mma.es>
g What institutional organisation is necessary to combat desertification?
g Examples of organisation at different institutional levels in Mediterranean areas
g Portugal
g Spain
g Italy
g Overview of how the indicators inter-relate
Link to table of indicators specifically relating to this issue

g What institutional organisation is necessary to combat desertification?
Lead authors: Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia, Monica Caggiano <quaranta@unibas.it>

New ideas of what institutions are and how they function have been developed. Basically institutions can be identified as the formal and informal mechanisms which include the systems of rules governing all kinds of policy-relevant societal decision-making processes. The concept of institutions can be considered at different levels, from the micro level of individual decision-making to the macro level of national politics and international regimes. Starting from this perspective two functions can be considered as specific for institutional organization to combat desertification: to facilitate, at community and individual level, decision-making processes directed towards a more sustainable use of resources; and to facilitate the implementation of political decisions directed to combat desertification. These functions can be improved by local community involvement in the definition of the institutional framework, using a participatory approach that engages stakeholders in identifying priorities and creating programmes and actions to combat desertification. This approach is strongly recommended by the Convention to Combat Desertification that calls for the participation of all stakeholders including local communities. All the program actions have to be developed in consultation with stakeholders in order to improve decision-making, provide the foundation for ensuring sustainability of actors, to identify the priorities, to undertake urgent actions, to release creative energies, to ensure a sense of strong ownership among all stakeholders, and to maximize the impact of actions, through consensus-building on priorities and related programmes.

Due to the fact that the policy actions to combat desertification do not always have an equal impact in all situations, it is not only policy constraints and facilitations that require assessing, but also the institutional framework that determine the actual impacts and interactions that occur. This leads to the need to incorporate the community's views and knowledge, not only in the decision-making processes, but also in the assessment of the measures implemented.

5 top

g Examples of organisation at different institutional levels in Mediterranean areas

g Lower Inner Alentejo, Portugal
Authors: Maria José Roxo and Pedro Cortesao Casimiro <mj.roxo@iol.pt>

Different institutions have influence on the area of the municipality of Mértola affected by desertification, in direct or indirect ways acting at different levels. Simply put, there are three levels of governmental "power" over the territory plus the institutions that have appeared through the initiative of civil society. The directives of the government or central power, emanating from the Ministries (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests; Environment and Territory Ordainment; Cities; Local Administration; Housing and Regional Development), constitute the first level. The separation between Agriculture, Environment, Territory Ordainment and Regional Development seriously jeopardises some of the approaches and solutions for territory issues and questions, especially in the specific case of implementation of measures and actions to combat desertification.

The intermediate level corresponds to the Coordination and Development Commissions of regional character, whose actions have been closely connected to the execution of structural programmes from the European Union. Also at this level, and with a direct connection to the central power, is the Guadiana Valley Natural Park created in 1995 under the Nature Conservation Institute. This is a regional initiative, where integration of the agricultural activity and protection of several habitats in the area have been planned and undertaken. The guidelines and orientation of the park should be integrated in municipal plans.

The last level corresponds to local or municipal power. The competence of municipal power is quite evident, deriving from proximity to the population, the purpose of the Municipal Plans in defining and restricting land uses for the territory, and also because strategic development guidelines for the territory are established.

Monte do Vento farm, property of ADPM, Amendoeira da Serra, Mértola (photo by Maria Roxo and Pedro Casimiro)

In terms of the participation of the civil society, there are several non-governmental organizations present, which have had a fundamental role in the area. However, the Mértola Patrimony Defence Association (ADPM) stands out in terms of the amount of work it has contributed. This NGO was constituted in 1980 and since then has worked in cooperation with the Mértola Archaeological Camp, the Municipality, and Universidade Nova de Lisboa. The main objective of ADPM has always been to outline a project of integrated development with the following features: to allow the participation of the various stakeholders; to take an interdisciplinary perspective; to base ideas on the local resources; to consider natural and cultural order; to promote economic and social development; and to enhance the importance of all activities, traditions and local knowledge. The main beneficiary of this project is the local population, in an attempt to implement the concept of sustainability.

5 top

g Spain
Authors: Leopoldo Rojo Serrano <lrojo@mma.es> Beatriz Bueno González <bbgo@tragsatec.es>

Spain is a strongly decentralized State, as a result of the creation of the Autonomous Communities [1] that began with the approval of the 1978 Constitution, and subsequent decentralization of competencies. In addition Spain joined the European Union in 1986. Nowadays an open debate is in progress about the redefinition of the role and functions of the Local Corporations (Municipalities), which could mean a second decentralization. Such a situation is reflected in every legal and institutional analysis made about desertification as well as in the subsequent distribution of competencies. And though the three processes (EU institutional development, the consolidation of the autonomous process and the role and functions of the Local Corporations) are positive, conflicts and overlapping may appear.

However, nowadays, there exists a large institutional support for coordination activities in the Public Administration actions in the various sector policies. This includes the implementation of the policies of sustainable development and integration of the environment, particularly desertification control. In this sense the Spanish Forest Act says that "it is the duty of the Environmental Ministry to create and approve the National Action Programme to combat Desertification (NAP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food and the Autonomous Communities". The implementation and monitoring of the Programme will also be implemented jointly by the three institutions. Therefore the NAP development and implementation is not exclusively a duty of the Environmental Ministry, but also implicates other ministerial departments and particularly the Autonomous Communities which, according to the State competence structure, will be responsible for the putting into practice of most of the considered measures.

Therefore through the General Directorate for Biodiversity, the Ministry of Environment is the competent body for the coordination of the combat against desertification at national level. Consequently with the signature of the State of the CCD, the Ministry of Environment must attend to some functional necessities that may be classified in three different frameworks.

  • General monitoring of the Convention application in Spain as affected country, including the participation in the involved international committees, bodies and forums.
  • Coordination of the NAP.
  • Development of those specific actions for combating desertification that the NAP specifically spelled out to the Ministry of Environment such as: the creation and periodical updating of the National Soil Erosive Inventory (INES); the maintenance and expansion of the Field Network for the Monitoring of Erosion and Desertification in Spain (RESEL Net); or the development of the LUCDEME Project (Combat Desertification in the Mediterranean).

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food plays an important role, because of the socio-economic burden of the combat and control of desertification that is so significant. Always within the framework of the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Agenda of the Ministry of Agriculture includes the implementation of the EU regulations for rural development [2]. This means a substantial advance in combating desertification. Other related activities are the development of tools such as the National Irrigation Plan, or even the facilitation of the Agrarian I+D, that finances research projects about desertification key issues through the National Institute of Agrarian Investigation.

The Autonomous Communities are competent to establish their own institutional models for the development and implementation of the NAP within its territorial boundaries. In this context it can be called the Andalusian Plan for desertification control (PACD) written by the Andalusian Board.

The Spanish institutional coordination and management for the implementation of the CCD and NAP, is channelled through the existing forums for coordination and public participation of Spanish environmental and agricultural policies. This relies on existing forums for coordination responds to the principle of economy and efficiency of ways and means and the concern about governance.

The above mentioned includes the Environmental Sector Conference, an organization composed of representatives of the Environmental Ministry and the Councils responsible for the environment in the Autonomous Communities. It also supports various Working Groups and Commissions of General Directions. One of these is the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment (presided over by the Director General for Biodiversity), created as an organization for consultation and cooperation between the General State Administration and the Autonomous Communities. They are responsible for the following duties.

  • To facilitate cooperation for the creation of plans and programmes and the performance of actions, for the protection, conservation, restoration and improvement of natural resources, the environment and wild flora and fauna.
  • To propose guidelines for sector policies, in the management of the private or public social and economic activities since those policies and activities may be of importance for natural resource conservation.

From a consultative standpoint, and in order to fix the direct participation of society in the creation and development of environmental policies, particularly for forest, the Ministry of Environment has created the Advisory Environmental Council (CAMA) [3] and the National Forest Council [4]. Such organizations are suitable for jointly attending to the consultancies over the development and implementation of the NAP, without prejudice to the consultancy process in the wide debate forums held during the NAP's creation phase.

On the other hand, the above mentioned institutional coordination organizations (Environmental Sector Conference and the National Commission for Protection of the Environment) are able to refer to other collegiate bodies those specific questions considered to need special treatment. To mention some examples, this is the case for certain questions related to the agrarian sector, the management of water resources or scientific research. Those sectors have their own coordination organizations like the Agriculture Sector Conference, the National Water Council or the Inter-ministerial Science and Technology Commission.

We can therefore conclude that there is a competent and specific framework for the coordinated, plural and participatory management of the several significant sectors involved in combatting desertification. The Spanish institutional legal system has granted the competencies to this framework and any efficient action within the NAP must rely on it.


[1] The Autonomous Communities are territorial entities within the constitutional management of the Spanish State, but empowered with legal autonomy and executive competencies, as well as the authority to administrate themselves.
[2] These regulations includes among other practices agri-environmental measures, afforestation of agricultural land, implementation of the codes of good agricultural practices, etc.
[3] The Advisory Environmental Council, created in 1994, is a body linked to the Ministry of Environment that integrates, for non binding consultative purposes, representatives from central and autonomous administrations, institutions for research, unions, NGOs devoted to nature conservation and those social sectors involved with environment.
[4] The National Forest Council was created in 2000 by the Spanish Forest Strategy to be a consultative, advisory and collegiate body in forest issues, linked to the Ministry of Environment, for the purpose of facilitating an suitable sustainable management in the Spanish forest, as well as fostering the social and economic development of the forest sector. Within the Council are represented all the public administrations and various sectors involved in the entire forest environment.

5 top

g Agri Basin, Italy
Authors: Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia <quaranta@unibas.it>

The Agri Basin is located in the Basilicata region, southern Italy. It is situated at the heart of the Basilicata Apennine Mountains and covers 1,730 square kilometres, with a population of 94,291 inhabitants. The Agri river flows 136 km to the Mediterranean sea.

The procedures established for combating desertification, in particular for implementing the NAP, call for the Regions and River Basin Authorities to implement operational plans and programmes in the context of their respective jurisdictions, within the coordination of the Ministry of the Environment and Territorial Protection.

In particular, the Agri Basin Authority have sketched its Basin Plan as a "cognitive, regulatory and technical instrument through which it plans and programmes actions and standards of use aimed at conserving, defending and improving the value of the soil and the proper utilisation of water, based on the physical and environmental characteristics of the area involved" with the Basilicata region guiding and managing the implementation of these measures.

The Basilicata region has also set up a Regional Committee to Combat Desertification charged with coordinating and planning measures in the Region.

At local level the National Park of Val d'Agri and Lagonegrese has recently been set up and many NGOs are also involved in the natural resource management of the Agri Basin.

5 top

g Overview of how the indicators inter-relate
Lead authors: Giovanni Quaranta, Rosanna Salvia, Monica Caggiano <quaranta@unibas.it>

As reported by the CRIC in the second reporting process on UNCCD Implementation (18-29 November 2002, first session), the Italian National Programme have made an assessment of desertification risk at the nationwide scale (1:1,250,000). In order to produce a "Preliminary national map of Italian areas prone to desertification", the working group co-ordinated by the Italian Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service utilized four different indexes that reflect specific processes related to desertification.

  • Aridity index, defined as the relationship between the average yearly precipitation and the average yearly potential evapo-transpiration (Aridity Index (1))
  • Soil characteristics index, related to the pedo-climatic classification of the Italian territory (dependent on soil and its biotic cover)
  • Land use index, obtained by means of a reclassification of the original Corine Land Cover classes
  • Demographic variation index, defined as the percentage of population variation between 1981 and 1991, at the municipality scale.

A final index of sensitivity to desertification was developed on the basis of the four indexes above. The index of sensitivity to desertification, displayed in map format, shows the spatial distribution of the phenomenon throughout the Italian territory. This is similar, but not quite the same as the Environmental Sensitivity Index described in DIS4ME.

Based on previous experiences with indicators and a careful examination of indicators proposed and utilised conducted by the National Environmental Protection Agency, the Regions have conducted a second identification of their vulnerable areas at a regional scale (1:250,000). The methods used to create the desertification vulnerability maps mainly took into account indicators relating to climate (aridity and drought), plant cover and soil. Social and economic indicators have not yet been adequately utilized even though their importance for describing desertification phenomena in Italy is widely recognized. The desertification indicators were included in the programmes of the various bodies under SINANET - National Environmental Information System.

National policy and strategy framework: In Italy there is no specific legislation aimed at combating drought and desertification; efforts and strategies in this area are included in the legislative framework developed to protect and valorise environmental resources. The following are especially important:

  • Law n.36/94, which governs the use of water resources and establishes that water use must be directed towards saving and resource renewal, so as not to harm available water resources, environmental survival, agriculture, aquatic wildlife and flora, geomorphological processes and hydrogeological balances.
  • Law n.183/89, which led to the establishment of the river basin authorities and which calls for drafting of hydrographic basin plans in order to implement a policy to prevent phenomena of hydrogeological instability, to protect soils, for water purification, and for the organisation, use and management of water resources.
  • Legislative Decree n. 152/99, which generally reorganized the topic of protecting water from pollution by subdividing jurisdiction among the State, the Regions and the local authorities.

Other pieces of legislation associated with combating desertification currently in force in Italy include:

  • Law n. 431/85, concerning urgent provisions to protect areas of special environmental interest.
  • Decree Law 11 June 1998 n.180, (the so-called Sarno Decree). It includes the recovery of burned hilly and mountainous areas for which the associated presence of hydrogeological risk is recognised.
  • Legislative Decree of 5 February 1997, n.22 (the so-called Ronchi Decree), regarding waste management.

The objectives of Italy's environmental policy can basically be expressed in three categories: reorganization of the environmental disparity, promotion of sustainable development and implementation of innovative environmental policies. In the last few years an operation aimed at rationalizing the legislative framework was undertaken to compensate for its fragmentary nature and for the fact that it is behind schedule vis-à-vis European legislation (CRIC, 2002).

Local capacity for combating desertification and local use of best practices: Since desertification is clearly caused by human activity, and since one of the determining factors in the combat against the degradation of natural resources, the landscape and the environment is the widespread active involvement of all economic and social agents, (whether individually or through organisations and associations), the strategic objective has to be to increase public awareness about desertification. The local capacity for combating desertification unquestionably depends on existing knowledge and on the socio-economic characteristics of the context. This factor influences both the formulation and application of policy measures and the local use of best practices.

5 top