On international conference “Problems of Aral: impact on the gene pool of population, flora and fauna and international cooperation for mitigating consequences”

An international conference "Problems of Aral: impact on the gene pool of population, flora and fauna and international cooperation for mitigating consequences" was held on 12 March 2008 in Tashkent by the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.

The First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan Rustam Azimov read the greeting message of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov to the participants of the international conference.

"The Aral Sea zone is inexorably turning into a desert," the head of state said in his message. "In the zone of constant ecological risk, under the influence of factors negatively affecting the quality of life, health, and gene pool of the population are not only the regions surrounding the drying sea – Kyzyl Orda region in Kazakhstan, Dashhovuz region in Turkmenistan as well as the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Khorezm, Navoi, Bukhara regions of Uzbekistan, but the whole region of Central Asia."

Among the participants of the conference were the representatives of the international and regional organizations, financial institutions, renowned scientists and experts in the fields of ecology, climate change and water resource management of twenty countries of the world, including the countries of Central Asia, Germany, Israel, India, China, Netherlands, Russia, and Japan.

As noted during the forum, the deficit of clean drinking water on the planet is experienced by millions of people. It is particularly acute in the countries with dry climate. The worsening of the ecological situation in the Aral Sea area has lead to the misbalance of the ecosystem in the region, and aggravated the deficit of water resources. This, in turn, has a negative effect on the socio-economic development in the region, the living standards and the health status of the population, and the biodiversity. That is why the problem requires collaborative attention of the countries of the region and international organizations.

The main reasons for the ecological crisis that came as a consequence of the drying up of the Aral Sea, according to the conference participants, were the thoughtless economic activity in the past, as well as the changing climate and other natural processes. As a result the area of the Aral Sea water area has shrunk more than four times over the past half-century. The water level has dropped by 24 meters, and volume 10 times.

The President of Uzbekistan has repeatedly drawn the attention of the world community to the need to take complex measures to act on the problem and improve the situation, first of all – the arrangement of the agreed management of limited water resources of the Aral Sea basin by the states of the region in the best interest of all countries surrounding it, taking into account the ecological requirements. In his speech at the meeting of the heads of SCO member states in Bishkek in August 2007 Islam Karimov clearly set out Uzbekistan's position with regard to the use of the transboundary watercourses in the region based on the abovementioned principle.

In the first year of its independence Uzbekistan became one of the initiators of the establishment of an International Foundation to Save Aral and two regional structures – an Interstate Commission for Sustainable Development and an Interstate Water Management Coordination Commission. In 1993 the heads of five Central Asian states signed an Agreement on the joint action to solve the Aral Sea problem, recover the ecology and ensure socio-economic development of the Aral Sea region. And in 1995 they signed the Nukus Declaration confirming the intention of the Central Asian countries to expand cooperation in this field. The joint Programme of the Aral Sea Basin is in progress.

In Uzbekistan the issues concerning the softening of the consequences of the ecological crisis are being solved at the state level. Laws have been adopted to regulate the use of natural resources and the activity on environmental protection. The country has ratified the main international papers on the subject, including the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. Large-scale programmes are being implemented to provide for general socio-economic development of the Republic of Karakalpakstan and Khorezm region that make up a part of the Aral Sea zone.

Moreover, a number of target projects aimed at improving the ecological condition of the territories surrounding the Aral Sea, preventing the degradation of the land and raising its agricultural potential, improving the health status of the population, providing clean drinking water to it, creating the conditions for local residents to receive additional income from small business and private entrepreneurship, farming and craft are being gradually implemented.

Large-scale work is being carried out to fortify the moving sands on the dry bottom of the Aral Sea, and to develop this land through the cultivation of drought- and salinity-resistant crops, which would allow the use of these territories as pastures, and thereby develop cattle farming. Local water reservoirs are being created in the delta of Amudarya River, their surface area now exceeding 150,000 hectares. Fishing farms are being set up here. All these measures are intended to develop the economic progress of the region, improve the population's employment, recover the biodiversity and improve the climate.

Efforts to stabilize the situation in the Aral Sea area are also being given by many international organizations, including the agencies of the UN system, financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc. Thus, with the support of the Global Ecological Fund the Nukus division of the Executive Committee of the International Foundation to Save the Aral Sea alone has developed 22 projects, the majority of which have already been implemented.

During the meeting it was emphasized that many problems concerning the ecological crisis in the Aral Sea region cannot be solved solely through the efforts of one country. In light of this it is necessary to improve the systems of managing and using water resources of the Aral Sea basin within the frame of the existing interstate agreements. This sort of cooperation should develop in line with the commonly accepted international norms and rules. One of the first steps towards this would be for all countries of the region to sign under the international documents on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and lakes.

Also, within the frame of the convention parallel sessions were held. Participants discussed in detail important issues concerning the prospects of improving the management of water resources in Central Asia, the effect of the ecology on the gene pool, and health of the population and the ways to solve the tasks in this sphere and the measures to improve the living standards in the Aral Sea area.

At the end of the forum, Tashkent Declaration of the International Conference on "Problems of the Aral Sea, their effect on the gene pool of the population, flora and fauna, and international cooperation measures to reduce their consequences" was signed.