UN wades into water row

The UN has called on Central Asian leaders to co-operate to help protect dwindling water resources in the area.

The UN's Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, currently on a tour of the Stans of Central Asia, has told reporters that a visit to the shrinking Aral Sea left him shocked and the situation underscores the need for collective action.

The sea, once the world's fourth largest lake, has shrunk by more than 70% in recent years as tributary rivers were diverted for irrigation.

As well as causing water shortages and destroying the livelihoods of those who depended on the lake to make a living, its disappearance has sent salinity levels in the regions soil rocketing and soaring pollution levels.

As a result of the disaster, people are getting sick, the land is poisoned, and storms blow dust and salt as far as the North Pole.

"It is clearly one of the worst environmental disasters of the world... It really left with me a profound impression, one of sadness that such a mighty sea has disappeared," said Ban Ki-Moon.

The loss of the Aral Sea, while striking, is not the only issue where water rights are causing tension in the region.

Uzbekistan and Tajikstan are locked in a diplomatic spat over Tajik plans for a massive hydro-electric dam that could reduce water flow in Uzbek regions, damaging the environment and agriculture.

In response, Uzbekistan has blocked rail freight transporting goods into Tajikstan, a country still recovering from civil war in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr Ban warned that Uzbekistan should not take unilateral action until an international team has finished its assessment of the potential impact of the project.
"I am deeply concerned about what I heard about the potential crisis from the blockage of train shipments on the border," he said.

"Particularly agricultural implements in this planting season."

"These resources should be used fairly and harmoniously respecting the interests of neighbouring countries.

"This is a collective responsibility for all of the leaders of Central Asia and the international community."

Sam Bond




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