Aral Sea problems will only be fixed by regional cooperation, UN stresses

28 May 2008 – Resolving the problems caused by the drying out of the Aral Sea, which has shrunk drastically in size in recent decades because of the inefficient use of water resources and climate change, will only happen when the countries of Central Asia work together, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says.

The problems “cannot be solved through the efforts of a single country,” UNDP Regional Director for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States Kori Udovicki told the Aral Sea Forum Seminar, held at UN Headquarters in New York yesterday.

She called on the countries of Central Asia, as well as international donors, regional organizations and civil society, to begin a concerted collaborative effort to produce “marked improvements in mitigating the effects of the environmental and socio-economic disaster.”

In 1960 the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest inland water body in the world, but the diversion of tributary rivers for irrigation projects has slashed its size to about 10 per cent of the original. It has raised the salinity of the area’s soil, reducing the amount of arable land, causing irreversible losses in flora and fauna and depriving millions in neighbouring countries of critical sources of income. The region is also heavily polluted.

Ms. Udovicki said the Tashkent Conference on the issue, held in March, ended with a declaration from experts and representatives of governments and civil society that assistance to the area must be enhanced.

She stressed that the “solution to these problems is possible only through transboundary cooperation and UNDP is firmly committed to support these efforts,” adding that improving the use of water resources will be key to tackling the problems.

In a separate presentation to the seminar, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said it was working with UNDP and many regional organizations on initiatives to encourage collaboration between the countries and to map out potential strategies for dealing with the problems.

UNEP noted that many people in the region are experiencing severe health problems because of the poor quality of the drinking water.

The seminar was organized by the permanent mission of Uzbekistan, with the participation of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which all lie in the basin of the Aral Sea and its tributary rivers and play an active role in drawing attention to the situation. A photo exhibition on the subject, set up by the Uzbek mission, is also being staged at UN Headquarters.

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