12/19/2011 06:53

Cooperation in desertification may result from collegial contacts; delegates from over 25 countries visit booth.
Talkbacks (3)

Representatives of the Jewish National Fund at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) forged some unexpected friendships during their two weeks in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month.

At their booth in the exhibition hall – which was the only booth among the Israeli delegates to the conference – JNF officials received over 200 visitors from around 25 countries, including Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia, according to the director of international relations, Karine Bolton-Laor.

Most of the visitors expressed hopes to continue communications with the JNF, and possibly study from their experiences combating desertification and establishing community forests, Bolton-Laor explained.

“It always amazes us, the variety of people who come to visit and who we would expect to be hostile to us and they’re not. They actually want to work with us on some level,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “It promotes a lot of goodwill.”

The Israeli delegation to the UNFCCC was led by the Environmental Protection Ministry, but included participants from several environmental organizations.

The JNF booth in the conference exhibition hall received a return visitor of particular interest to the organization, an Iraqi representative from the country’s national infrastructure ministry who also visited the booth at the previous year’s convention in Cancun, according to Bolton-Laor.

Accompanying him this year was a young, modern woman from the Iraqi environment ministry, whom Bolton-Laor called the “point person” for climate change in the country’s delegation. While last year JNF did not have the proper manpower to follow up with such new interests in partnerships, this week Bolton- Laor said she is already going to be in contact with the Iraqis about potential desertification collaborations.

Similar requests came from Afghani and South Sudanese delegates, and a member of parliament from Somalia also visited the JNF booth and attended an official side event the group held on forestation.

“He said, ‘Times are changing, we can do something,’” Bolton-Laor explained, noting that the Somali delegate wants to push the issues of combating desertification and water management forward, and is even considering sending Somali representatives to Israel for training.

The booth also received many visitors from Japan, China, tropical countries concerned with desertification and the United States – including a NASA earth scientist who recommended the institution’s groundwater-detecting satellites to the Israeli delegates, according to Bolton-Laor.

Prior to the conference, the JNF group members also discussed potential collaborations with the Catholic Church of South Africa, which owns huge amounts of land that it intends to use for sustainable development, she added.

While Bolton-Laor did acknowledge that there were the occasional snide anti-Israel comments made toward their booth – usually by European delegates – the majority of the group’s experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

“It was very interesting that all these African and Arab nations came to us,” she said, “and received us very well.”