Environmental threats offer Caucasus resolution

Conflict over access to natural resources and local environmental degradation could cause more problems and deepen the tensions between southern regions of the Caucasus.

Compiled by the United Nations agencies UNEP and UNDP and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the international report also stated that the militarised situation had also contributed to the problem, hampering efficient waste management and maintenance and renovation of water supplies.

The study investigated both the negative impacts of conflict in the region as well as the opportunities for cooperation that some environmental issues posed, such as finding ways to share natural resources in areas of conflict and manage cross-border problems.

It covered areas including Abkhazia, South Assetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan, also highlighting the knock-on effect that the rapidly developing capital cities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia had on surrounding areas.

"The assessment demonstrated that, in the worst case, environmental stress and change could undermine security in the three South Caucasian countries," director of UNEP's regional office for Europe, Fritz Schlingemann stated. "However, sound environmental management and technical cooperation could also be a means for strengthening security while promoting sustainable development."

A key concern held by all countries was shown by the findings to be a lack or quality of mechanisms for sharing transboundary water resources, both surface and underground, including the Caspian and Black Seas.

The disposal of abandoned Soviet weapons and chemicals, and the reclamation of contaminated land were also noted as important challenges for the Southern Caucasus countries.

Kalman Mizsei, spokesman for UNDP, pointed out that the state of the region's natural environment and how the countries dealt with them had major implications on their socio-economic status as well.

"The Southern Caucasus countries are confronted by similar social, political and economic transformations that are altering century-old relationships within and between them, and shaping their development," he said.

By Jane Kettle



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