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[SANTIAGO] Chile and UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) have signed an agreement to support scientific research on water resources in dry parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Under the agreement, signed on 2 February, UNESCO will work with the Centre for Arid and Semi-arid Zones of Latin America and the Caribbean (CAZALAC), based in La Serena, Chile.

"The agreement will allow our nations to jointly apply for funds and work together on common problems," says Guido Soto, CAZALAC's executive director. "Our institution will provide the staff and know-how for research projects supported or promoted by UNESCO in the region."

CAZALAC will promote training, education, scientific research and technological initiatives in the region's arid and semi-arid zones, where managing water resources is particularly difficult.

"Until now, there was no regional centre dealing with water resources in Latin America and the Caribbean," says Soto. "For us, this will mean becoming an international institution, with more resources and more comprehensive collaboration with local water centres in Latin American countries."

The region has 4.5 million square kilometres of arid or semi-arid land spread across 22 countries. These include the 'altiplano', a high-altitude plateau occupying parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, and the coastal deserts of Chile and Peru.

CAZALAC now plans to join the Global Network on Water and Development Information in Arid Zones, which promotes international cooperation in dry areas.

Its members include eight centres supported by UNESCO in China, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Panama, Serbia-Montenegro and the United Kingdom.

CAZALAC is funded by the Chilean government and local authorities, the University of La Serena and the Belgian region of Flanders.