Water problem in Central Asia poses global challenges

Water problem in Central Asia poses global challenges

Baku, Azerbaijan, Sept. 19

By Elena Kosolapova - Trend: Water, the very foundation of life and without which no living creature, fauna or flora could survive, is often taken for granted. Turn on a tap and there it gushes out, hot or cold, and in some instances clean enough to drink. However, the next time you turn on a tap, think for a moment at how privileged you are because millions of people across the planet do not have access to clean running water.

Water is becoming a scarce resource and it also becoming the root cause of many conflicts as countries are ready to fight for a resource that is far more viral than oil. Tension points over oil have popped up between Egypt and Ethiopia over the flow of the Nile River, or between
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Without water a human being could live for about a week, at most and then only if certain criteria were met, such as the person's age, health, and climate conditions.

However today, nearly one billion people in the developing world do not have access to clean drinking water. Moreover water is used in all fields of the economy and industry and its absence will mean stoppage of all kind of activities.

Central Asia is among one of many areas experiencing water scarcity, which in turn provokes ecological, social, political and economy problems within the region. Furthermore water distribution complicates relations between the countries of the region and could result in an open military confrontation.

However the effects of this problem is not restrained by the borders of five Central Asian states; left unresolved the water issues could also lead to global ecological problem.

For example, the ecological catastrophe of the Central Asia's Aral Sea entails climate change and cataclysms all over the world, Bulat Essekin, member of the Committee on Environmental Policy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Geneva) and member of the Board of the Global Water Partnership (Stockholm) told Trend by phone on Sept. 17

"The problem of the Aral Sea has been declared a global environmental problem at the global level," Essekin said.

He noted that the Aral Sea's ecological catastrophe is a unique case when people ruined a large inland water reservoir via irrigation during one generation. There is almost nothing left from this sea. Of the two rivers flowing into the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya has not practically reached the Aral Sea in recent years, because all its water is taken for irrigation. The Syr Darya river reaches the sea in spring, but its flow is also threatens to be reduced. Besides, the water flows which ever reach the Aral Sea contain chemicals and fertilizers used by farmers.

Essekin, who earlier headed the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia mentioned that a new desert named Aralkum had appeared on the seabed once occupied by the Aral Sea. The sands of the Aralkum and the dust which originates from it contain toxic pollutants. Such atmosphere provokes huge health problems: diseases of the respiratory tract, cancer, infant and maternal morbidity, very high mortality rate.

Aral dust has also been found in the glaciers of Greenland, Tien Shan and the Pamirs, the forests of Norway, and the fields of Russia and this dust provokes faster melting of glaciers.

"The recent studies of three leading universities of Holland, Finland and Germany have shown that the glaciers are melting faster than were even predicted by the most courageous scientists. The glacier-fed rivers will continue reducing. But glaciers are regulators of regional, continental and global water cycle. Previously they seized the water that goes around the world, now this water passes by them and falls with floods in Europe and other regions. All these factors are connected. Therefore, this is a global problem, it can not be solved within the five countries of Central Asia," Essekin said.

He noted the presidents of five Central Asian countries created the International Fund for Saving of the Aral Sea 21 years ago, but no progress has been reached in the issue of its restoration yet.

This fact is being explained by growing population, especially in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, according to Essekin. Furthermore the population in this region is mainly engaged in agriculture, which requires water. Moreover the economy is growing, so the demand for water is growing. But agriculture, industry, and all live will halt if there is no water in the Central Asia.

A high level of unemployment is observed in the region and a lot of people from Central Asia turn into gasterbeiters working abroad. Moreover economic problems contributes to the development of drug trafficking and other forms of crime and exacerbate conflicts between the two countries, the expert added.

Central Asian countries should completely transform their economies in order to solve their water problems, for example redirect millions of people engaged in cotton production to other not- requiring water activity, according to Essekin.

But such reformation will require huge investments and technologies which are not available for these countries, and the farmers will need governmental support during the transitional period. Moreover the policy of these countries is not coherent, the fact making them unattractive for investors. And there is no trust between the countries of Central Asia at last, the problem which also restrain foreign companies from investing in this region.

"A very strong support is required from the outside world, from the parties interested in working in the Central Asia. The Central Asia is a vast region, which may provide the world with a lot of products of agriculture, energy, tourism and transport in future," the expert said.

A platform should be created by a group of countries, including the countries of Central Asia, Russia, the USA, China, etc. which guarantees return on investment to green economy, Essekin noted.

He noted that earlier he initiated the Green Bridge Program which goes beyond the limits of sovereignty and sectoral interests. It was bottom-up initiative approved by all the countries at the global level within the UN conference RIO-20 in Brazil in 2012.

"Some countries are just interested in water, other- in biodiversity or energy. But one sphere does not work without the other. Everything should work in a package, but no one of the countries of the Central Asia are able to create this package, because they do not have enough experience, potential, specialists," Essekin said.

The expert stressed that the Central Asia's renewable energy recourses might completely satisfy the demand of the region for energy without any of coal-fired plants, nuclear power plants, and huge hydro power plants, etc.

"There is an alternative way - to build small and micro hydro plants, develop solar and wind energy, which can fully meet the needs of the economies of the Central Asia. Now, many countries are moving away from large and costly hydro power plants. Any large power plant poses a threat. It is easier to develop renewable energy without any threats. Such technologies exist, and they fall in price with every new day. If the technologies come to this sphere, there will be no more need of huge power plants. Then the countries will be able to use its enormous agricultural, climatic potential," he said.

Edited by C.S.

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