Peace in Central Asia may depend on shared water resources

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 11 July 2011

Boosting cooperation between countries sharing the waters of the Amu Darya, Central Asia’s longest river, could be key to future peace and security in the region a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

The Aral Sea, which relies in part from water from the Amu Darya, remains severely degraded. Estimates indicate that "the volume and surface area of the sea have decreased tenfold"

Big hydropower projects planned upstream, demand for irrigated agriculture downstream and growing concern that climate change is shifting weather patterns are emerging as major natural resource challenges for the four main nations involved – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The new report, prepared by UNEP on behalf of partners in the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), points out that water resources in the region are already impacted by decades of often unsustainable development dating back to the era of the Soviet Union.

Large-scale engineering projects dammed and diverted substantial flows from the Amu Darya river basin into activities such as cotton, wheat and fodder farming in arid and desert regions. Such projects have also contributed to increased land degradation and damage to soils.

The Aral Sea, which relies in part from water from the Amu Darya, remains severely degraded with the report’s estimates indicating that “the volume and surface area of the sea have now decreased tenfold”.

Water levels in the southern part have dropped by 26 meters and the shoreline there has now receded by several hundred kilometers, says the report Environment and Security in the Amu Darya Basin.

Across the Amu Darya basin there is growing concern over declining water quality with and implications for human health including increased incidence of kidney, thyroid and liver diseases. This is being linked with chemicals run off from cultivated land and the washing of soils in the winter to reduce salt levels. Continue reading

Aral Sea: a graveyard of ships

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 05 April 2010

The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday as he urged Central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

Aral Sea

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90% since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.

Ban toured the sea by helicopter as part of a visit to the five countries of former Soviet Central Asia. His trip included a touchdown in Muynak, Uzbekistan, a town once on the shore where a pier stretches eerily over gray desert and camels stand near the hulks of stranded ships.

“On the pier, I wasn’t seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships,” Ban told reporters after arriving in Nukus, the nearest sizable city and capital of the autonomous Karakalpak region.

“It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked,” he said.

The Aral Sea catastrophe is one of Ban’s top concerns on his six-day trip through the region and he is calling on the countries’ leaders to set aside rivalries to cooperate on repairing some of the damage.

“I urge all the leaders … to sit down together and try to find the solutions,” he said, promising United Nations support. Continue reading