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On the situation concerning use of water resources in Central Asia

Press Release ¹ 37

All water resources of the Central Asian rivers are distributed within “The Scheme of complex utilization of water resources of the Syrdarya and Amudarya rivers” which agreed by all countries of the region.

Uzbekistan, as the country with the largest population, consumes more than 50% of all water resources of the Central Asian rivers. Along with this more than 85% of water resources of the republic are formed outside of its territory (in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), and the main water reservoirs that regulate the flow of the Syrdarya and Amudarya rivers as well as large water facilities of the Republic of Uzbekistan are located on the territory of neighboring states.

Taking into account the volume, quality and regime of water resources, they are an important part of the strategy of utilization common waters of the region in the interests of all countries of the Aral Sea basin.

Citing data on the separation of natural water resources on national (local) and trans-border it is necessary to note that according to the practice of international relations of Central Asian countries on water partition, proceeding from a more reasonable principle that all water resources in the basin of the Aral Sea are common and are to be divided between the countries on mutual agreement.

However, for over the last decades the countries of Central Asia, especially at lower reaches of the basic waterways of region - Syrdarya and Amudarya - suffer from lack of water and its socially economic consequences. Various and ambiguous approaches in sphere of water resources management interfere with steady development, lead to ecological catastrophes accidents and even to disputed situations.

The fate of Aral Sea may serve as an example. Its drying up bears tragic consequences not only for the Central Asian region, but also for entire Eurasian space. The unreasonable use of water resources for over the last century has brought about the threat of disappearance of one of the largest inland reservoirs in the world. Yet there was no case when one generation could witness the perishing of an entire sea.

Thus, with 1960 the surface of Aral Sea came down to 43% of initial area, a 40 000 square km of sea surface has passed to a land. And the most part of this surface is covered by salts, and first of all, easily transported sulfates which during the sandy and dust storms that became frequent and stronger recently, are transferred on greater distances up to glacial zone of Tian Shan where they except for other things accelerate process of thawing of glaciers. By reason of salt aeration, bulk of the population of suffered areas is affected by eye illnesses and respiratory diseases. Almost 80% of children younger than 11 years old who reside in the delta of the Syrdarya River suffer from eye illnesses and respiratory diseases.

A chronic shortage of drinking and irrigating water, the salt and dust storms formed on a surface of the drained bottom, and the whole complex of other environmental problems undermines a basis of a life in Aral, causes sharp social and humanitarian problems. The destruction of Aral Sea also negatively impacts climate change far outside region. Annually from shoaled part of Aral millions tons of salt and a dust go up into air, which serves as a reason for pollution of air and soil in vast territories.

Now Central Asia is in conditions of rather water-scarce period when water on the main rivers of Amudarya and Syrdarya does not exceed 70% of average annual norms. This situation undermines opportunities to provide necessary volumes of water for drinking purposes and irrigation. Meanwhile, 65% of population of region lives in a countryside area and depends on efficiency of agriculture.

Uzbekistan undertakes significant efforts to improve situation in the Aral Sea region. It includes the policy of the Government on rational water management, broad implementation of water-saving technologies, supporting eco-system in the Aral Sea region, strengthening the social protection of population in the region, attracting the international assistance, and others. Various programs and projects are being implemented along with the states of Central Asia in the framework of the International Fund for Saving Aral Sea, Interstate Coordination Commission on Water Management, and others.

Moreover, solution of Aral Sea problems require further consolidation of efforts of countries in the region and attracting full-fledged assistance from the world community.

The participants of the International Conference on Aral Sea Problems organized by the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan on March 11-12 this year in Tashkent eye-witnessed the current situation in the Aral Sea region. The Conference once again drew attention of the world community on the Aral Sea problem and called upon for consolidation of efforts towards improving ecological and social-economic situation in the region.

Uzbekistan believes that the fate of the Aral Sea should be a reminder for the countries of Central Asia on the need to reasonably use water resources of the region the volumes of which have a tendency to decrease due to a global climate change.

At the moment, the most difficult water-ecological situation is in the Aydar-Arnasay system of lakes where the level of water is decreasing and the level of its mineralization is getting higher. This in mid-term perspective may lead to creation of another environmental crisis zone similar to the consequences of the Aral Sea’s shrinking that will negatively influence on the situation not only in Uzbekistan but also in Kazakhstan.

The rational use of natural resources, first of all, water and hydro-energetic ones is one of the most urgent problems for Central Asia.

There are serious disagreements between countries of the Central Asian region in approaches towards use of trans-border watercourses and therefore this problem is very sensitive.

It makes it difficult to elaborate mutually agreed actions in resolving issues of rational water management, impedes sustainable development, and leads to ecological crisis and even conflicts.

In Uzbekistan it is considered as unacceptable. All resolutions on water management of trans-border rivers including construction of hydro-energy facilities should not damage environment and infringe upon interests of the population of countries located at lower reaches. At the moment, 7 million people live at lower reaches of Amudarya and Syrdarya.

Therefore, decisions with regard to the use of watercourses of those rivers including during construction of hydro-energy facilities should be taken based on universally recognized norms of international law with compulsory taking into consideration interests of that population.

Any participation of the third party in water management problems in Central Asia should be based on objective factors with compulsory respect of position of every country as well as it should not worsen disagreements vis-à-vis those issues between countries of the region.

Therefore, Uzbekistan considers it expedient to resolve regional water problems on bilateral level and addresses its problems with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the same format.

Every incautious statement of a third party supporting countries at higher reaches of Amudarya and Syrdarya may be used by them to justify their actions to use trans-border rivers in energy regime. It inevitably leads to changing regime of its watercourse towards decreasing and makes irreversible environmental, social and economic damages to the countries at lower reaches.

At the moment, the biggest regional hydro-energy facilities (Toktogul hydro-energy station in Kyrgyzstan, Nurek and Kayrakum hydro-energy stations in Tajikistan) which were primarily constructed for irrigation and only then converted into the energy regime of operations.
Thus, increase of water discharge in wintertime leads to flooding of useful territories, demolition of houses and creation of other extraordinary situations and damages which account for millions of dollars.

The work of water reservoirs during the summer season in the water accumulation mode creates a shortage of water resources for agricultural production, reduction of the sown area for crops and agricultural output, and consequently, deterioration of living conditions of population.
Such unilateral violations of principles of joint use of water resources of transboundary rivers, fixed in interstate agreements between the Central Asian countries, have very undesirable and far-reaching consequences, both for water management and energy generation, as well as for socio-economic development and political stability of the region.

Now, in order to obtain commercial benefits from electricity exports to neighboring regions, without environmental impact assessment and coordination, countries at upper reaches of transboundary rivers - Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – are currently developing construction projects of new large-scale hydropower facilities in the upstream of Amudarya, Syrdarya and Zarafshan, such as Kambarata hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan, Yavan HPS and Rogun HPS in Tajikistan.

Taking into account a special importance of water for Central Asia, Uzbekistan has always spoken from a position of reasonable approach to the use of water resources. President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, addressing at the Bishkek Summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member-states, on August 16, 2007, outlined a clear position and approaches of Uzbekistan, which are as follows:

  • issues of use of water resources of transboundary rivers in Central Asia must be resolved taking into account the interests of more than 50 million people living in all countries of the region;
  • any actions taken in transboundary rivers must not have a negative impact on existing environmental and water balance of the region;
  • existing international legal documents in the sphere of water management and environment, i.e. the UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of March 17, 1992 and the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 21, 1997 must become a basis for development of an effective system of joint use of the resources of transboundary rivers in Central Asia;
  • right of either party to implement projects using the resources of trans-boundary rivers, including hydro-engineering construction, is not denied but on the assumption of its thorough independent techno-economic and environmental impact assessment on the principles of transparency and full awareness of interested parties;
  • there are to be given assurances that construction of installations will not have irreversible environmental impacts and does not disturb the established balance of the watercourse by all states located along the course of those rivers;
  • in the case of damage, there must be taken all measures to eliminate or reduce such damage, and if necessary, to bring up the issue of compensation;
  • implementation of projects are to be carried out through constructive approach and compromise, that does not harm interests of other states concerned and guarantee the two most important conditions: first - reduction of watercourse for downstream-located countries must not be allowed; second -  environmental security of the region must not be violated.
  • In its turn, Uzbekistan will continue to adopt progressive measures to ensure water and ecological balance in the region in order to maintain peace and stability, strengthen security and sustainable development of Central Asia.


London, 25 October 2008
 

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