Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia
International Conference “Development of cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin to mitigate consequences of the environmental catastrophe”
28-29 October2014, Urgench, Uzbekistan
Initiated by President Islam Karimov, an international conference “Cooperation in the Region of the Aral Sea Basin to Alleviate the Impact of the Environmental Catastrophe” took place on October 28-29 in the city of Urgench.
The forum seeks to mobilize the efforts of the world community to implement programs and projects dedicated to improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the region of the Aral Sea and to boosting the international cooperation to weather the negative repercussions of the ecological disaster.
It was attended by officials of 24 prominent international and regional organizations, financial institutions, among them being the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Center, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as scientists and experts in the fields of environmental sciences, climate change, water resources management from 26 nations, including Austria, Hungary, Germany, Spain, China, Latvia, Malaysia, the United States, France, Switzerland, South Korea, Japan among others.
The welcoming speech of Islam Karimov, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Chairman of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea was read out by the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan Rustam Azimov.
In his video message to the international conference, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of this forum to address issues of the ecological crisis in the region of the Aral Sea, a disaster that has been recognized as one of the most wide-scale anthropogenic catastrophes and that which has inflicted a considerable damage to the health of millions of people and the environment.
The gathered at the event were demonstrated a video film narrating the problems associated with the unfolding situation in the basin of the Aral Sea as well as those concerning the realization of region-wide projects.
The greeting message of UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova was read out by the Deputy Director General of UNESCO – Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Sciences in Asia-Pacific Hubert Gijzen.
Speaking at the forum, Executive Secretary the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Christian Friis Bach, UNDP Deputy Administrator Ayse Cihan Sultanoglu, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP Shun-ichi Murata, Director of ADB Division for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Akmal Siddiq, Head of the Regional Office of the IDB Hisham Taleb Maruf and others noted that in terms of its ecological-climatic, socio-economic and humanitarian repercussions, the Aral crisis poses a direct threat to the sustainable development of the Central Asian region, to the health, gene pool and the future of the residents of this area. In circumstances when the frontiers of the environmental crisis zone keep expanding, the Aral problem can acquire an even greater disastrous nature without attracting the attention of the world community to addressing it.
One of the reasons behind Aral’s drying out is associated with mismanagement and thoughtless waste of natural resources in the Soviet era, which was underscored at the conference.
The consequences of atmosphere pollution are being reinforced by the fact that Aral is located on the way of powerful air flow from the West to the East, which leads to the removal of aerosols to the upper atmosphere.
Speaking from high rostrums over and again, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov repeatedly stressed the importance of taking effective measures to weather the repercussions of the Aral disaster, the consequences that have long gone beyond the borders of one region. Thus, practically in the very wake of national independence, Uzbekistan became one of the initiators of establishing the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. At the 48th session of the UN General Assembly on 28 September 1993, Islam Karimov raised this issue and drew the attention of the world community to the Aral Sea problems. During the UN Millennium Summit in New York on 8 September 2000, the President of Uzbekistan came up with an initiative to set up a council for the Aral Sea and surrounding areas under the auspices of the UN Environment Program.
The systemic measures taken in our country are particularly instrumental in ameliorating the environmental situation in the Aral Sea region and alleviating the impact of the ecological crisis. Laws have been passed that regulate the use of natural resources and designed to uplifting the effectiveness of nature protection activities. Uzbekistan has acceded to principal international documents in this realm, including the Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-boundary Watercourses and International Lakes. Wide-ranging projects are being implemented to address issues concerning the shortage of water resources and desertification, rational water consumption, combat salinization and degradation of crop lands, improvement in the access of population to drinking water, formation of essential infrastructure to treat diseases resulting from the mounting negative impact of the environmental and climate change.
Thus, the realization of the first stage of a project entitled “Creation of Local Reservoirs in the Amudarya Delta” has facilitated the construction of five water outlet structures, 45 kilometers of bank-protection dams, creation of ponds in the total area of 70 thousand hectares and with a capacity of 810 million cubic meters, regulated with engineering prowess. Within the last 15 years, 180 thousand hectares in the Amudarya delta have been filled with water and local lakes have been created, the total area of which it is intended to expand up to 230 thousand hectares in the future.
In the Aral crisis impact zone, plantations have been carried out on 740 thousand hectares of land, including that on the site of the exposed seabed over an area of 310 thousand hectares. In 1997-2012, modern outpatient clinics were commissioned in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Khorezm and Bukhara regions, medical institutions for 5.8 thousand beds have been erected or reconstructed, and 840 rural medical units are operating in these areas. Owing to the measures taken, the number of congenital anomalies in the Republic of Karakalpakstan has diminished 3.1 times, maternal mortality decreased twofold, and child mortality declined 2.4 times compared to indicators of the year 1997.
Instrumental in ameliorating the ecological situation in the Aral Sea region has been the international conference “Aral Problems, Their Impact on the Gene Pool of the Population and on the Flora and Fauna, and International Cooperation in Alleviating Their Repercussions” that took place in 2008 in Tashkent under the initiative of President Islam Karimov and with support from the UN. The action plan worked out at that conference constituted the basis for the third Program for Assistance to Aral Basin Countries for 2011-2015.
The World Bank facilitates the implementation of this program, according to World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia Saroj Kumar Jha. “It is designed to improve the environmental and water resource situation and achieve sustainable development in the Aral Sea basin. The total volume of investments assigned by us to the implementation of national and regional projects has exceeded one billion US dollars. This international conference will allow us to define new dimensions of cooperation and coordinate the efforts of all interested parties in addressing the existing ecological issues in the region.”
During panel sessions of the conference, participants discussed adopting additional measures to preserve the gene pool and boost the health of the population residing in the environmental risk zone, mobilizing necessary economic stimuli and mechanisms for bolstering the living standards and quality in the Aral area, restoring the ecological system and the biodiversity in the region.
The conference participants appreciated highly the organization of the forum in Urgench and expressed confidence that it will afford a new impetus to bolstering the international cooperation in weathering the impacts of the drying out Aral Sea.
Participants approved a final document of the international conference.