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Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan
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Topical issues

3 November 2014

Land of Life

In recent decades the people have increasingly become indifferent to the environment by pursuing goals of progress and forgetting about the close and tenuous relationship between organisms of the nature. This has caused the emergence of non-healing wounds on the body of the planet – environmental disasters of a global scale in different parts of the world. One of the largest disasters of this kind that has taken place in recent history is the tragedy of the Aral Sea. Correspondents of Uzbekistan Today searched for solutions at the Urghanch international conference ‘Promotion of cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin to mitigate consequences of environmental catastrophe.”


Ecological balance is a very fragile structure; it is easy to break yet is incredibly hard to recover as this may take hundreds of years. It is pretty important to understand the basic principle: time is not reversible and one has always to pay double for mistakes. In pursuit of ambitious projects leaders of the Soviet Union were blind to the ecology, their only concern were indexes, performance, plans, using people as well as nature just as instruments for achieving goals. A good example of this is the current situation with the Aral Sea. Despite these tragic lessons, some countries present again with big projects, which will force the Aral Sea and the whole region as well to experience even worse environmental disasters...

Of course, it is already obvious that even colossal financial investments will not return its former magnificence to the Aral Sea. Experts from over 25 countries and international organizations participated in the conference, and said that it is not possible to recover the sea in its previous borders in the foreseeable future. The process has gone too far and is almost irreversible. And the main problem is not the environmental component itself.

The Aral Sea’s crisis zone covers the territories of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and indirectly – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. That is why the process of solving related problems is rather complex – it is necessary to consider the opinions of experts, financial capabilities and interests of five countries, not to mention those of representatives of international financial institutions. This was the main goal of the conference; the significance of the tasks requires more effective coordination of efforts, joining of resources at national, regional and international levels to prevent an even worse disaster in the area. The only goal is to rescue first of all the more than 60 million people who live around the dying sea – the people whose lives depend on the decisions taken, including those made at the conference.

The President of Uzbekistan has also stressed this fact while addressing the participants of the forum. As the President pointed out, plain statistics is not able to picture the full extent of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Aral Sea region, to describe feelings and aspirations of millions of people living there. Shortage of water resources, low-quality drinking water, soil degradation, climate change, growth of incidence rate, especially children, the set of related socio-economic and demographic problems – these are cruel realities, which the population of the adjacent regions of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan has to face every day. Drying out of the Aral Sea has caused dramatic climate changes in the entire Central Asia.

Today, as the Aral Sea has become a desert area of 5.5 million hectares, it is hard to imagine that as recently as 70 years ago it was one of the largest reservoirs of the world with astonishing primeval beauty. The region’s widlife had been represented by 38 species of fish, unique animals, up to 1 million saigas, 638 species of plants. All of this was destroyed by man in just a few decades, and most of region’s flora and fauna gene pool has vanished. The area, once renowned for its unique natural resources, has become a resemblance of a post apocalyptic movie world where saksaul and symbolic tumbleweed remind humans of the importance of careful fulfillment of projects affecting ecological balance.

In the early 1960s the Aral Sea used to play a main role in the development of region’s economy, having become ‘the heart’ of fishing industry. Annual amount of catch in the Aral Sea Basin exceeded 35,000 tons. Over 80% of region’s population was busy with catch, processing and transportation of fish and fish products. Now only the ship graveyard ¬–tourists’ place of interest, old Muynak fish cannery and world-known ‘Aral fisherman’ monument which has become the symbol of the tragedy remind of that days of prosperity. Moreover, fertile soils of Amudaryo and Sirdaryo rivers’ estuaries, as well as high-yielding pastures provided more than 100,000 people engaged in livestock farming, poultry farming and agriculture with jobs. Now, instead of this wealth descendants inherit only salty and sandy Aralkum, which inexorably occupies the territory of the Aral Sea Basin. As specialists say, annually over 75 million tons of dust and poisonous salts amounting to 400 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide rise to the atmosphere from the drying sea. Consequences of pollution deteriorate due to the fact that the Aral Sea is situated on the path of strong airflow directed from west to east, which carries over aerosols to the higher atmospheric layers. Signs of salty flows are traced all over Europe and even in the Arctic Ocean.


On the first day of the conference, the participants had an opportunity to see for themselves what consequences can be caused by humans’ vanity and challenging nature. They visited the regional oncologic center and the branch of the Republican Specialized Center of Urology. Water pollution, large-scaled salt and dust carry-over from the bottom of the dried-up sea have contributed to the growth of somatic diseases among the population of the Aral Sea region such as anemia, diseases of kidneys, blood, gastrointestinal, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, cholelithiasis and other diseases. Children suffer particularly violently from the negative impacts of hazardous environment. For example, the content of dioxin in the blood of pregnant women and breast milk of nursing mothers in Karakalpakstan is five times higher than those in Europe.

Looking at experts who came to Uzbekistan, it was evident that many of them had not fully imagined the real situation in the zone of ecological disaster, where the population has to live. Of course, many of them have heard of the Aral tragedy. But, alas, the vast majority could only imagine life in the area, recalling the big picture. Without seeing this, it is difficult to comprehend the real value of ecological balance of nature and water, which is lacking in the region. Frankly speaking, Uzbekistan Today reporters were shocked to some extent by what we saw. But it was another matter – we have been to the Aral Sea region and have visited the ship graveyard and other sights, but this trip has made us to reevaluate the life of the region. We used to leave the region with sad thoughts about the vast desert that was once a sea, and now only ‘ships of the desert’ plough through it instead of ships. This time I have seen a completely different side of life of the region. And this is due to the work of many people who are making huge efforts to change the situation, to help the population and supporting it. Our specialists, experts, businesspeople and representatives of international organizations – these are just the people who keep on hoping that the region will become a better place to live. The conference participants were able not only to see, but also experience the unique work being undertaken to save the life of the region. The core element is people. Not really much information about them is being published, there are few who know them. They have dedicated their lives to a difficult, but very important work. President Islam Karimov has emphasized this in his message. “I think everyone will agree that we have no right to let hopelessness born in the people living here. And our duty is to create opportunities for families to live adequately, to own businesses and to provide new jobs and sources of income,” the head of state underscored.

The basis of this work was laid in early 1993 by the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), founded by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. To attract the attention of the world community to this issue Islam Karimov first told about the tragedy at the 48th session of the UN General Assembly. After two years, the representatives of countries which are exposed to destructive consequences of the ecological disaster the most, appealed to the international community seeking assist in rescuing the Sea and the respective region. Islam Karimov came up with an initiative to create the Council on the problems of the Aral Sea and the Aral Sea region under the auspices of United Nations Environment Program. As a result, from 1995 to 2012, various international donors allotted more than USD 1.1 billion to change the situation in the region. In addition, at the expense of funds of the countries of Central Asia two programs have been implemented to assist countries of the Aral Sea Basin. Thus, significant work has been conducted to develop mechanisms of joint management of the Aral Sea basin’s water resources, rehabilitation of ecological disaster areas, providing the population with clean drinking water and improvement of its health, reducing poverty and unemployment. The total sum of IFAS members’ contribution in realization of projects in 2003-2010 was more than USD 2 billion.

The global nature of the disaster was also assessed by UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon, who visited the region in August 2010. After a trip to the area, the Secretary General called the death of the Aral Sea as “one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world” and said that the struggle with its consequences is a “collective responsibility around the world, not only in Central Asia.”

Uzbekistan for its part is undertaking great efforts to mitigate the repercussions of the Aral tragedy. Over the past ten years, the volume of investments from the government aimed at these objectives exceeded $1.2 billion. In 2011, for the preservation and restoration of landscapes, flora and fauna, promotion of economic and human development a unique Lower Amudarya state biosphere reserve with a total area of 68.7 thousand hectares was created.

Implementation of the first phase of the project to create local reservoirs in the Amudarya delta allowed to put into operation five water-outlet structures, 45 km of bank protection dams, build adjustable water ponds with a surface area of 70 thousand hectares, totaling 810 million cubic meters. In the last 15 years over 180 thousand hectares of the Amudarya river delta was filled with water, several local lakes were created and it is planned to expand their water surface up to 230 thousand hectares.

In the zone of influence of the Aral crisis plantations on the area of 740 thousand hectares were created, including dry seabed of 310 thousand hectares. In the coming years it is planned to carry out a reforestation of 200 thousand hectares of dried sea bed.

Over the last 15 years in rural areas of Karakalpakstan around 1.7 thousand km of water networks were commissioned, the provision of rural drinking water increased almost four times, more than 100 rural health clinics, maternity homes, and most of the Republican Cancer Center were constructed, reconstructed and equipped with medical equipment. From 1997 to 2012 in Karakalpakstan, Khorazm, Bukhoro and Navoi regions modern outpatient clinics aimed at holding over 32.6 thousand patients per shift have been created. Hospitals with 5.8 thousand beds have been reconstructed and 840 rural healthcare facilitates have been created. As a result, compared with 1997, the number of congenital anomalies in Karakalpakstan decreased by 3.1 times, the maternal mortality rate decreased twice and the infant mortality by 2.4 times.

But most importantly, the conference participants stressed that it does not end there, and joint efforts to increase the efficiency of work to mitigate the impact of the negative consequences of the Aral Sea tragedy in the lives of people must be more efficient and effective. After all, the main purpose of the meeting of experts in Urganch is the mobilization of resources and efforts of the international community for the implementation of programs and projects aimed at improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea region, as well as ensuring the further development of international cooperation to reduce the negative impacts of this environmental disaster.

This message was also emphasized by the Uzbek President Islam Karimov: “It is clear that without substantial assistance of the UN and other international organization and partner nations it will impossible to solve this global problem. A wide range of severe consequences of the Aral tragedy requires the formation of a new multi-faceted assistance program aimed at effectively overcoming many challenges facing the people in the economic, social and environmental spheres of the Aral region. A key role in the development and implementation of such a complex program of assistance to the region should belong primarily to international organizations including the UN, the financial institutions in the face of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and authoritative international environmental organizations. This will allow to involve in the implementation of this program not only the resources of international organizations and financial institutions, but also the possibility of friendly partner countries “, the President stressed.

Investments, numbers, plans for the future - without a doubt, these important results of the conference will be a new stage in support of the population of the Aral Sea region and improving the conditions of his life. But that is the work of experts. The main conclusion, which was drawn for themselves, the readers and correspondents Uzbekistan Today, is the courage of the local people. We would like to quote the words of one of the residents of Urganch, who we met on the first day of the conference. Despite the problems with the environment, responding to the questions of foreign experts, he put it simply said: “We’re fine. Life goes on after the catastrophe ...”

Author: "Uzbekistan Today" newspaper
Views: 11324