With some 2,300 species endangered or facing extinction, significant losses in agricultural output, and an economic cost estimated at more than $42 billion a year, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan marked the International Day for Biological Diversity with a call for "decisive action to protect our planet."

“The degradation of drylands - which constitute 40 per cent of the planet’s land surface - is having dramatic effects,” he said in a message referring to the theme of this year’s Day. “These consequences are especially troubling because they are borne disproportionately by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

“Drylands host eight of the 10 least developed countries in the world, and developing nations are home to the overwhelming majority of the 2 billion people who rely on dryland ecosystems. As a result, their decline has far-reaching implications for our efforts to fight poverty, hunger and disease.

“Indeed, significant steps to preserve drylands will help determine whether we will achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” he added of the targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 to slash a host of the world’s ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, high infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015. Mr. Annan stressed the need to reverse desertification, a process not only exacerbating poverty but also partly caused by it.

“This year’s biodiversity commemoration coincides with the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. These two complementary observances illustrate the strong links between environmental issues, and highlight the need for a comprehensive and global approach to address these concerns,” he said. “On this International Day for Biological Diversity, let us resolve to do more to protect the biodiversity on which our planet depends. Let us commit ourselves to safeguarding our drylands, and let us work together to achieve the goal of a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010.”